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. Fabulous. Viva la logic francais.

    This seems to raise an important issue that is often overlooked. It brings to mind Hermann Weyl and Spencer Brown who both address it directly and with great expertise. This comment seems to say something similar. .

    “Unfortunately, orthodox attempts to establish the orthodoxy of the orthodox result in paradox, and, conversely, the appearance of paradox within the orthodox puts an end to the orthodoxy of the orthodox. In other words, paradox is the apostle of sedition in the kingdom of the orthodox.” (Richard Herbert Howe and Heinz von Foerster – ‘Some-thing from No-thing: G. Spencer-Brown’s ‘Laws of Form’ 1975 –


  2. I don’t understand the logic of this argument: “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.”. Really?
    Also, intuitions on infinity are risky and often wrong. For example, 1+2+3+…=-1/2. And its not because we ‘are free’ to calculate any number we want…

    Oh my, sometimes I really miss logical positivism 😦


  3. Is formatting this all as one humongous single paragraph part of the snark? Because, per the references to the “obscure,” that made this all more “real.”

    I think. I may be at an “impasse,” in which case it’s becoming yet more real.


  4. What finite numbers do is enact a formalism of something either comes after or before so the Real has to be where the formalism still applies which is infinity.

    Along the lines of WYSIATI, What You See Is All There Is, can also be what you SAY or a constraining set of rules or formalisms that constrain the body or senses.


  5. This seems so close to the real thing including the obscurantism and almost exaggerated frenchness that it’s hard to see it as a parody by comparing it to the video. I was getting no headway with the start of the article and assumed it was some self-deprecating diary. So I abandoned it and switched to the video.

    When I know it’s a parody then I see the jokes. Maybe this shows the true relation between the economic and the real “which is generally obscured and invisible” ? 😛

    I’d be curious to hear Professor Campbell Jones justify why Badiou is worth calling the greatest living philosopher.


  6. Socratic, no, that was a weird change in formatting, which in absence of evidence I’m simply going to blame squarely on my co-editor, Phil… 😉


  7. Hhmmm .. I am not sure what to make of this piece. The bits I read from postmodernist philosophers generally strike me as either confusingly deep or deeply confused, but I am not sure that this kind of ridicule is the most productive path to take here (a fake “French English” diary!? really?!)

    I would much more enjoy an attempt at explaining why this kind of talk is so attractive to some disciplines. If it’s really all gibberish then there might at least be a psychological explanation. So far, I haven’t even got completely what the postmodernist typically sets out to do. It seems to me that most postmodernist works want to issue warnings of some kind, but I never understood exactly whether some bigger project was behind that.

    I would be really interested to know whether the author has some thoughts on any of that.


  8. “The bits I read from postmodernist philosophers generally strike me as either confusingly deep or deeply confused, but I am not sure that this kind of ridicule is the most productive path to take here (a fake “French English” diary!? really?!)”

    I think parody is a pretty effective strategy to explaining why something is silly. Particularly when the video is also provided to the talk.


  9. My impressions:

    1. I think the humorousness of the article could be improved by doing a more skillful parody of the way Badiou uses language. Capturing the actual flavor of his writing would really do a lot to enhance the ridiculousness. The less the writing is like Badiou’s, the less the parody stings, and the more dismissible the underlying parodic critique.

    2. I was a little creeped-out by the parts where the pot shots seemed to be aimed at the French in general rather than just Lacanians. It might be helpful to dial that back a little, or make it more directed.


  10. I would assume that which is not real is the unreal. So if the real is what is presently physical, then the unreal is that which is not, such as past and future. But then there is nothing to the present without the past and future, so it cannot be real without the unreal.
    As for economics, without feeding and otherwise housing and clothing ourselves, it gets a little too real, as in painful. So reality is avoiding that which is even more real, or we might die and then nothing is real.
    As they say, life is what happens while you are making other plans.
    Logic has to be circular, as in self referential, if it is to keep from getting lost. There is nothing, if there is nothing to refer to. The sound of one hand clapping is silence. Nothing. We are fluctuations from nothing, the absolute. The void. The infinite void. So we are the finite in the infinite. Ripples in space.
    And I can’t even speak French.


  11. Badiou impersonates himself, and despite himself, manages to say something real, though that might be hidden from plain sight since he is talking about the impossible real, the hopeless real and the not so real real. That might be because it was written in Paradise but I have not seen the obituaries.


  12. I get the impression that Badiou is known mainly for (attempting to?) use modern axiomatic set theory to somehow show the poverty in the ideas of the postmodernists. If that is one of his chief motivations, employing mathematical logic seems hardly necessary, whether successful or not. Surely to do that criticism is more like shooting fish in a barrel, if you can manage to wade through any substantial portion of the postmodernists’ verbiage and see it as meaningful in any sense.

    It would be more entertaining, as Steven Weinberg has mentioned, to read the likes of Wittgenstein and Feyerabend, which I would guess, for a scientific realist, to be entertaining rather like being entertained by an intelligent comedian, however much you might disagree with the comedian’s point of view.

    I’m hoping for some useful corrections to my (admittedly naive) guesses about the general tenor of these philosophers.


  13. Massimo – I watched enough of the video (and have read enough Badiou) to know that that would be throwing good money after bad. I understand that parody plays an important role when the very act of engaging with the philosophical exposition directly legitimizes it in a way that harms the critique. But I’ll leave the hard work to those whose professional circumstances allow them the time and freedom to pursue it

    Looking forward to future posts containing professional philosophers’ most poignant lolcat GIFs!


  14. I am very disappointed.

    I hadn’t read Badiou until reading this piece convinced me I should check him out. I managed to find a couple interviews, and several extracts from his books. I admit I am not very impressed.

    However, this piece fails on many levels. Despite the obscurities, Badiou’s main concerns are quite obvious, and Nola doesn’t address any of them. Furthermore, this article fails as parody, because Badiou has a definite writing style, and Nola makes no effort to imitate that style, and without such imitation, parody reduces to sarcasm.

    I also confess I find inter-sectional squabbling between philosophic traditions, when they reduce to sarcasm, neither very interesting nor very productive.

    Finally, Nola’s text verges repeatedly on Francophobia, to the point where it was just uncomfortable. Badiou himself may think that France enjoyed a golden age of philosophy, and that may be worth poking fun of, especially given his rather grating hubris. But Nola doesn’t handle that very well; one suspects he is simply mocking French philosophy – and its culture – just as such, and that is neither charitable nor persuasive.

    One also detects just a hint of envy in diatribes of this nature. Badiou (who has been working since the early 1960s) apparently is developing readership beyond the academy, across the world. Badiou’s readers may be misguided, and I think they are; but I also think Professor Nola may not yet have earned the leverage to knock Badiou in this fashion.

    As aside, I would be interested to see how Patrice Ayme, our leading advocate for French contributions to science, might respond to this article. Also of interest might be Disagreeable Me’s take on Badiou’s insistence that mathematics is ontology (or at least the language of ontology, the distinction was not always clear), since this is clearly a variant mathematical Platonism.

    One last note of caution: After having read some of Nick Bostrom’s probabilistic arguments for the simulation hypotheses, in order to respond to the previous article here, I am reminded of the fact that the Anglo-American tradition can produce thought just as obscure, just as vacuous, and just as full of itself as the French tradition, and with just as pretentious a political or social agenda. If we don’t see as many parodies of Anglo-American thinkers as we do of the French, it may be because, first, it doesn’t have as strong an impact on the culture around it, and second, nobody *feels* strongly enough about it to put effort into the task.


  15. All I can say to this — and this sort of thing, in general — is “ugh.”

    What is the point of this sort of sneering ridicule, not just with respect to one aged philosopher but an entire country’s philosophical tradition? The sort of analytic philosopher or scientist that is going to find this appealing are already sold — the continental tradition is nothing but BS. The sort of person who does their work in continental philosophy, because they find the tradition interesting and important, are hardly going to be convinced to chuck it all, on the basis of some foolish caricature posted somewhere, off in the corner of the internet. So, who exactly, is this supposed to be for? And what, exactly, is the desired outcome, upon our reading it?

    Our second to last hire was a specialist in continental philosophy, as this whole area was completely absent from our curriculum. He is actually a former analytic philosopher, trained at Stanford, who migrated over to the continental tradition and does a lot of work on Heidegger, Derrida, and Pierre Bourdieu. An excellent scholar and prolific writer. So, what? We shouldn’t have hired him? His life’s work is a terrible mistake? Do you really think you understand something about the tradition he has spent his life working in that he doesn’t?

    I showed him this and he laughed. He said, “Anyone reduced to recycling Samuel Johnson’s old, fallacious “I refute thee thus”, isn’t someone I would waste my time with.” I’m afraid I have to agree with him. The caricature is obvious, unoriginal, and ultimately, pointless.

    When I am confronted with work in philosophy that I do not understand or have no interest in, I feel no compulsion whatsoever to go out and ridicule and insult those people who do understand it, do have interest in it, and sometimes, devote their careers to it. I didn’t think that this was any sort of special virtue on my part, but rather, simply, the sort of humility, charity, and generosity that everyone owes to one another, but perhaps, I’m a better person than I thought.

    This sort of thing is exactly what we, as scholars and teachers, should *not* be about.


  16. Aravis, I don’t know, that seems a bit harsh. The oft-mentioned anti-French tone of the piece is actually a direct rebuke of Badiou’s own rather insufferable Franco-centric attitude, not – the way I read it – an attack on all French things in general.

    Nor is this, again in my reading, a rejection of continental philosophy tout court, just a humorous make fun of someone who, seems to me, richly deserves to be made fun of. At any rate, don’t worry, this sort of thing will be exceptional at SciSal, we’ll go back to hard core analysis in two days…


  17. Beautiful! 🙂

    The essay is essentially the shortened version of the lecture video, so I will not make much of a distinction. But it is just the right amount of deep philosophy (“The real is the impasse of formalization.”), mixed with just the right amount of humour (“Being obscure can make you famous and give you lots of interpreters. If one is clear, no one cares.”).

    I could only add two things. First, related to humour, I am slightly disappointed with Badiou using the arithmetic (i.e. integers) as an example. It is far too clear. It would be much better to use the example of the algebra of real numbers — it would completely obscure the example, making it much more interesting! 🙂 Just go back to the text, and substitute everywhere “arithmetic” with “real algebra” or just “reals” to see what I mean: using reals one can only calculate another real, and thus the reality of the infinity is established by the impossibility of the reals to describe what is really real — the infinity of reals.

    If obscurity is important, the example of reals (as compared to integers) is clearly a winner! 😉

    Second, related to deep philosophy, Lacan’s definition of real implies that God is real. Just think about it: science is a formalization of the laws of the Universe, and God is precisely the one thing that is the impasse of science, while relevant to the existence of both the Universe and the laws of science itself — thus God is the “real” to the “formalism” of science, per Lacan’s thesis. Some would say that such a statement is scandalous, which just gives further support to the argument.

    And if you think otherwise, you just failed to understand the impeccable French logic. 😉

    Absolutely beautiful! 🙂


  18. So, *I* am harsh, for suggesting that an snarky put-down of an aged, well-established philosopher, of whose work the author is no expert, is lacking of the appropriate generosity, we expect from professionals? I might gently suggest that you’ve got your “harshes” a bit backwards. It’s the article that’s harsh, not the call for charitableness in response to it.

    I would also challenge your claim that Badiou “richly deserves to be made fun of.” Unless you have some expertise with respect to his work that I am unaware of, on what do you base it? To ground such a judgment on an uncharitably selected video or series of quotations is Orwellian. I could ridicule Kant or Quine or Wittgenstein in the exact same way. Indeed, we just had a lengthy article and quite serious discussion about whether we’re all really in the Matrix. Imagine what an uncharitable critic could do with that! Actually, there’s no need to imagine … philosophers are treated to this sort of ridicule all the time, often with very bad consequences for our profession. My confusion is due to the fact that I thought we all found this lamentable. And yet, here we go, kicking someone else, in exactly the same manner that we find ourselves being kicked, on a routine basis.

    Smugness is never appealing. Snark rarely works and when it does, requires great rhetorical skill. And philosophy’s reputation with the broader public has sunk far enough. The last thing we need to do is turn on each other.

    One more thing re: France. They might have a reason to be somewhat self-important about their traditions. They are, after all, successful. Trying to imagine something like this in the US is akin to Science Fiction.


  19. Ejwinner, Aravis, Massimo,

    Did I miss something here? I don’t see the essay to be a parody of Badiou’s lecture — on the contrary, most of the jokes and humour is actually present in the lecture itself. I see the essay to be only a short (and nice) summary of the stuff that is in the video.

    Now I am completely confused. If this is supposed to be a parody of the lecture, it completely failed in emphasizing the parody moments, and succeeded only in rephrasing the lecture itself (which was quite good, IMO).

    Although I am not familiar with the relevant background of Badiou’s philosophy, I would agree with most of the points I heard in the lecture and read in the essay. Throughout the lecture, I was wondering whether Badiou is familiar with Goedel’s first incompleteness theorem, which could be considered a restatement of Lacan’s thesis, applied to arithmetic. And Badiou just went on to apply it to various other formalisms, getting very close to saying that the “scandalous real” of any “formalism” (the thing that is outside the scope of the formalism) is precisely the undecidable-but-true statement (if one equates truth and reality). I even think that he used the phrase “a new axiom in the formalism” explicitly during the lecture.

    Anyway, I don’t perceive the essay to be a parody at all. It is just a witty, nice summary of the lecture, something that I imagine Badiou could have really written himself in his diary about the visit to New Zealand.

    The only thing that is missing from the essay is the joke from the beginning of the lecture, about the comment that Badiou’s English sounds more like German than somewhere between French and Spanish… 🙂 But to grasp that fully, one probably needs to actually listen to him speak, and the written essay cannot communicate that properly.


  20. Mark V. – I was very glad to read your comment. There seems to be a lot of missing the point going on.


  21. Aravis, well, I guess we just discovered that my editorial choices are not going to please everyone all the time. Though we kind of knew that.

    No, I don’t have the required level of expertise, only a generic expertise in philosophy. But I flatter myself that in most cases I can tell the difference between profundity and obfuscation (the latter, incidentally, doesn’t mean one has nothing interesting to say, only that one says it pretentiously and unclearly).

    More generally: you think there is never a place for satire? I mean, yes, it needs to be used intelligently, and against the right targets. But the world would be a far sadder and less interesting place without it, no?


  22. Mark V. I am quite enjoying your posts in this thread! 🙂

    I assume that, without a hint of self irony, the author intends a parody. Being wrong about this would be a nice surprise.

    On the basis of my assumption, I agree with Aravis that this is facile on the same level as Samuel Johnson’s famous so called refutation. Especially, after watching the video itself. Badiou’s concerns and points are not only perfectly clear to this philosophe amateur, but important as well. Maybe I’ve read too much Kierkegaard.

    Reality is not captured by the systems, formulations, formalization, dogmas, and conventions we create. There is a human tendency to forget this, but a more human tendency to remember. We need to question convention and authority; our humanity depends on it.


  23. @SciSal

    More generally: you think there is never a place for satire? I mean, yes, it needs to be used intelligently, and against the right targets. But the world would be a far sadder and less interesting place without it, no?

    I think satire would be best placed by those who have really good answers to the questions Aravis immediately asked, and that you didn’t address. Namely:

    So, who exactly, is this supposed to be for? And what, exactly, is the desired outcome, upon our reading it?


  24. It is fascinating that there can be such varied reactions.
    I am reminded of Hadrian’s marvellously pithy last words to his soul[1]:

    Animula, vagula, blandula
    Hospes comesque corporis
    Quae nunc abibis in loca
    Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
    Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos.

    This has spawned a host of translations. See ‘Forty Three Translations of Hadrian’s Address to his Soul‘ ( for some of them.

    This is my preferred translation.

    Oh, little spirit, playful, fluttering, gay,
    Guest hitherto of this my body frail,
    How soon, in silence, wilt thou flit away?
    All mirth forsaking, naked, cold, and pale.

    Why this one? To understand that you would to know more of me and what I bring to the party. You, I am sure, would choose something different.

    In the same way everyone in this discussion brings to it their background and personality, colouring their judgement.
    My judgement is coloured by my ignorance, tinged with schadenfreude, and I suspect that is true of others. The judgement of some is coloured by generosity. I admire that.

    [1] Skeptics may miss the point because they do not have souls 🙂


  25. Thank you Robert, for the adroit use of the filleting knife and a good laugh.

    However I fear that “Alain” may be on to something:

    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

    Did not Ladyman and Ross say that Naturalistic metaphysics could consider nothing but the links between the kind of scientific theories that would be funded by a bona fide funding organisation?

    I am afraid I didn’t get very far with the video. I will never get back the temps perdu I would spend watching it.


  26. @Aravis Tarkheena
    “I would also challenge your claim that Badiou “richly deserves to be made fun of.” Unless you have some expertise with respect to his work that I am unaware of, on what do you base it? ”
    That’s not challenging the claim, you are merely attacking the person who made the claim. Did you watch the video?

    ” They might have a reason to be somewhat self-important about their traditions. They are, after all, successful. ”
    That’s a pretty poor excuse for an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

    “Smugness is never appealing”
    Smugness is never appealing, but self-importance is fine. Go figure. By the way, I thought Badiou was pretty smug in the video too.

    “So, *I* am harsh, for suggesting that an snarky put-down of an aged, well-established philosopher, of whose work the author is no expert, is lacking of the appropriate generosity, we expect from professionals?”

    What does it matter if he’s well established if he gave a lecture which fully dives into obscurantism to conceal bad arguments? He’s meant to be the “greatest living philosopher” according to the speaker. Did you watch the linked piece? Does someone need to be a highly specialised expert now to point out obscurantism and bad arguments?

    “philosophers are treated to this sort of ridicule all the time, often with very bad consequences for our profession”
    No. What has a negative consequence on the profession is getting someone to give a lecture, call him the greatest living philosopher and then have the resulting speech be empty language hidden behind obscurantism.

    It leads to the obvious thought “If that’s the greatest ….”. If philosophy wants to be taken more seriously, philosophy needs to clean up shop. If you find yourself defending a philosopher by the argument that he’s well know and challenging the expertise of everyone, it looks pretty weak.

    “To ground such a judgment on an uncharitably selected video or series of quotations is Orwellian.”
    We are talking about the man talking for 50 minutes straight. That’s a long time for it to be out of context. Which alternative video do you recommend? If I find a few other videos (I’ve watched at least one other which was the same) is that just an uncharitable collection of videos?

    I read your second comment first. You had me convinced you were serious!


  27. Ok, after rereading all the comments, the essay, and deliberately looking for a parody of the lecture in the text, I can only agree with Aravis — as far as the parody is recognizable (see below on that) I can only characterize the essay as an appalling failure.

    I also need to retract my initial “beautiful” comment as far as the essay goes — the lecture video is still beautiful, but if one interprets the essay as a parody, the text itself is anything but beautiful. Rather, the ideas that were (unsuccessfully) parodied in it are actually the beautiful part.

    The appalling nature of the parody is probably the main reason why I even failed to recognize it as such. It seems to me that the author failed to understand the main points of the lecture, and then tried to ridicule them, falling short of any success.

    As Wm. Burgess noted, there is some interesting irony in this — the only thing that a failed parody managed to achieve (in my case) is to positively advertise a very nice and interesting lecture video — one that I will recommend to several of my friends and colleagues, since it is very insightful, witty and worth listening to (and I will not recommend the essay).

    I will also look into other lectures by Badiou, and read up on Lacan as well. What they were saying obviously has a lot of substance, given that I agree with virtually every sentence that Badiou said in the video (I just listened to it for the second time now).

    I will also look up the people who are trying to criticize these points of view. But the essay given here is simply too lame and fails to raise any serious criticism. I have a feeling that the author simply didn’t understand Badiou’s lecture at all.


  28. I’m (almost) completely in agreement with ejwinner and Aravis — (and confused about Marko, who is confused himself). Badiou is looking at the same issues we have been examining: realism, free-will, determinism, through a completely different lens.


  29. Perhaps, a word or two from the OP might be helpful here regarding the legitimate uses of parody and satire.

    I find it rather peculiar to lecture SciSal via comments regarding editorial choices. Is this not akin to accepting a dinner invitation and then publicly complaining about what was served? These objections would best be directed at the author or to those who made comments that were deemed inappropriate.

    Like Robin, I was not inclined to listen to the entire audio, though I didn’t hear Badiou object in the slightest to his introduction as the “greatest living philosopher.” But perhaps that came later.


  30. Sci Sal: Of course there’s a place for satire. Good, productive, funny satire. This is none of those things. Indeed, look how much trouble people have been having trying to figure out what the thing is a satire of or whether it’s a satire at all.

    I have no problem with your editorial choices. I did not say the article shouldn’t have been posted. I’m simply saying what I think of it. And what I think is that it’s pretty low-rent stuff. And destructive to boot.

    Penj 3: Yes, I watched the video. Like several others, I found it quite interesting. You didn’t. So? You thought the lecture was “obscurantist.” We didn’t. So? That means it should be lampooned and trashed?

    As for your characterization of Badiou as “smug” in the video, I disagree, as do several others here. Turnabout may be fair play, but it’s pretty obvious when it’s just being used as an excuse for rudeness, (even if its someone else’s rudeness). I saw nothing in what Badiou did that deserved this sort of obnoxious — and un-funny — slam.


  31. “One last note of caution: After having read some of Nick Bostrom’s probabilistic arguments for the simulation hypotheses, in order to respond to the previous article here, I am reminded of the fact that the Anglo-American tradition can produce thought just as obscure, just as vacuous, and just as full of itself as the French tradition, and with just as pretentious a political or social agenda. If we don’t see as many parodies of Anglo-American thinkers as we do of the French, it may be because, first, it doesn’t have as strong an impact on the culture around it, and second, nobody *feels* strongly enough about it to put effort into the task.” Well put ejwinner- social coordination/opportunism masquerading as reality tracking.


  32. This does sound like so much inside baseball. Unfortunately my pathetic satellite connection only gives me, “Error loading player: No playable sources found” for the video, so all I have to go on is the intro;

    “In the lecture Professor Badiou argues that in the world today, the “real” is generally confused with the economy. Knowledge of the “real” has been reduced progressively to economics, to the point that economics now literally dictate the obligations of politics.

    He argues that political scandals show us a small part of the “real” which is generally obscured and invisible. But these scandals are presented as an exception to the law of the world, rather than representative of the general or structural situation, and function finally as propaganda.’

    Which seems a reasonably sensible issue for any philosopher to examine and which might be a worthwhile topic to discuss on this forum, but this is not an effective way to introduce it.

    As an example of “the real” cracking through the shell of bottom line, monetarist economics, I would post this link, as a very topical and current example;
    It should also be noted that Yanis Varoufakis is a professor of economics and a noted author on game theory.


  33. Thomas Jones, who is lecturing SciSal about his editorial choices?

    Perhaps Aravis can be construed as doing so in light of SciSal’s response to him that everyone is not going to be pleased with every article—but it isn’t immediately clear to me that Aravis is saying anything about Massimo–but only about the article.

    As for the rest of us critics–we’ve only attacked the article. Speaking for myself, I agree with you that it would be quite rude to question Massimo’s choices here and that never crossed my mind. I am grateful for the stoic philanthropy that he demonstrates by the hard work he puts into this site for the benefit of us all. I’ve also enjoyed the discussion around this particular article. I don’t see his publishing it as a mistake on his part at all.

    No, Badiou didn’t object to being called the ‘greatest living philosopher’. I’m sure he felt it perfectly normal that at least one person in the world would think this about him, (after all, it’s probably not unusual for someone to have a favorite living philosopher) and didn’t feel it necessary to assure everyone else who might hear this that this wasn’t the case.


  34. Incidentally, congratulations Dr. Pigliucci on your appearance in The Stone. And we had the privilege of watching you develop some of those ideas. And so many thoughtful comments from Main Street, including the well-done parody (speaking of which): How does a Stoic shop for vegetables?, first of the Reader’s Picks.


  35. “De gustibus non . . . yada, yada, yada.”

    Some contend that this is ridicule, some that it is not, some that it’s poorly played parody. I started laughing from the outset when I saw “recherche” in the title and perhaps wrongly assumed a double entendre since in English it’s used to impugn an overly-refined or pretentious point/suggestion/argument.

    However, I do think it’s overreaching to suggest that somehow this publication in SciSal seriously demeans the academic community of philosophers–whatever that might be. Over time, commentators here have made their dislike of particular philosophers or philosophic schools plain enough. It’s harmless snarkiness in my opinion–mostly a sort of sidebar amusement. I mean, some of us still read the Socratic dialogues despite his treatment by Aristophanes. And there’s a great parody of Wittgenstein (a favorite of mine) floating around the internet (can’t find the link).

    So these exchanges are like playing tennis without a net unless the OP weighs in. Let’s just loosen our belts and take a deep breath before the fish article arrives. 🙂


  36. Massimo,
    for satire to work, it needs its caricature to have a strong resemblance to the figure caricatured. It also needs to have a clear grasp on the precise target of the caricature – not the figure itself but what about it is found worthy of satire, Finally it has to have a clear purpose in drawing attention to what is worthy of satire as being worthy of satire. This is all true whether the satire is a gentle ribbing or a vicious ripping apart.

    I am not objecting to the article being satire; I am saying that it is not very good satire. The article doesn’t sound like Badiou (the caricature is not convincing); again, the article does not address Badiou’s evident concerns (and so lacks precise targeting), and It’s not clear what the purpose of the article might be, beyond chastising the University of Auckland for paying for Badiou’s airfare to give the lecture. That might be of interest to Professor Nola’s fellow faculty members, but it doesn’t do much for me.

    I will submit a second post which will elaborate. In the process, I will give a brief interpretation of Badiou’s lecture, which might not be entirely precise, but I hope is in the general ballpark.

    The video of the lecture is also available at Youtube:

    (One of the risks one takes in writing satire is popularizing the object of the satire. My first public writing was doing satires for a high-school literary mag. I got three stern rebukes from the principal, an hour long lecture from the dean of English. The next year I transferred to a more liberal school; it was actually more fun writing when I was considered a nuisance; nonetheless, I still managed to offend some fellow students. Yes, there are many risks one takes when writing satire.)


  37. I have just checked out Badiou’s “Logic of Worlds”.

    How shall I put this?

    Badiou has broken from the Heidegger, Derrida tradition of plausible sounding gibberish.

    Badiou employs implausible sounding gibberish interspersed with preposterous scare maths.

    I invite anyone to go and scan the book and see if they don’t agree.

    Does this stuff deserve to be made fun of?


    This stuff demands to be made fun of.

    Is Aravis’s colleague wasting his life studying the likes of Heidegger, Derrida and Badiou?

    It is not my business to tell people how to spend their lives but if he is after studying something true, interesting or useful then absolutely he is wasting his life.


  38. One of Nola’s problems is that he chose to satirize a lecture that is really Badiou at his most lucid. I had no problems following it. He is asking whether the epistemology necessary for agency might be precluded by the over-coding of normative social conventions within capitalist cultures, which tend to reduce our interests and options to economics and the economically viable. He answers ‘yes, but’ – there are moments when these conventions become incoherent, and it is in these moments that insight into other human possibilities become available to us.

    There’s a lot of baggage here – the Lacanian is the most overt (and easiest to parody); but the more important is the Marxist, and the implication that epistemology and ontology are intractably interconnected traces back through Heidegger to Husserl and to Hegel. Badiou is talking about the problem of ‘false consciousness’ generated in capitalist cultures, and the possibility of an ‘authentic subjectivity’ capable of enacting political change. The overriding metaphor is Plato’s parable of the cave; the implication is that greater insight needed to establish a society based on the principle of equality is still possible, despite the continual reassurance by the normative discourse in our culture that it is not.

    I am not defending Badiou. Certainly the style of Badiou’s presentation is open for critical remarks. Nola would have been better served by satirizing Badiou’s interviews, where his hubris and tendency to over-generalize, as well as his dependence on Lacan, are more obvious.

    Even in the lecture Nola’s chosen to parody, there’s enough to criticize. For instance, I don’t buy the ‘false consciousness’ theory, because then I’d have to buy the notion of an ‘authentic subjectivity,’ and as a Buddhist I’m committed to the notion that subjectivity arises from an aggregate of sensations, responses, and ideation. In more traditionally American terms, subjectivity is the self-reference of a consciousness epiphenomenal to the organism and developed within a conditioning social environment. The criticism of normative capitalist discourse that Badiou is making is perfectly just, but the kind of hope he is hinging on it is not the only response possible.

    Undoubtedly, discussion of such issues could be material for satire. But I don’t see that in Professor Nola’s article. Indeed, Nola doesn’t exhibit understanding of any of these issues, so he can’t properly satirize them. He just seems to be patching together phrases he snatches out of Badiou’s mouth to construct a straw man to attack. Possibly the worst instance of this is his ridicule of Badiou’s use of the word ‘paradise’ – Badiou remarks, in a perfectly understandable way, that when he was young he, like many radicals at the time, envisioned a *political* “paradise,” i.e., a Marxist utopia. He is admitting his youthful naiveté. How this gets twisted into Nola’s ‘scandal-less Paradise!’ is unclear.

    If a philosophy does not appeal to one, then don’t bother with it. If it has lasting value, it will survive getting ignored by some or over-estimated by others. If not, no loss.


  39. After watching the first 10 minutes of that video, I am shocked that some of the people here honestly think Badiou brings anything of substance to the table.

    I’m sorry, but referring to ‘the real’ as being completely dictated by economics in some veiled critique of capitalism (I will definitely agree that profit incentives/maximizing revenues aren’t the things that should dictate research dollars, etc.) doesn’t do anything but confuse. Wait, is Badiou serious about economics being the fundamental determinant these days? Is he just being cute with all of these metaphors and utilizing some poetic license?

    Who really knows? That’s what my problem has always been with many works in the continental tradition. I’ll never say that its all garbage, because that wouldn’t be true. But for the great number of occasions when I’ve read works in the continental school, its seems to be grandly verbose theory with very little logico-mathematical rigor or empirical data. Maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing if we’re looking at these works from a linguistic or literary approach. But it does nothing for us when it comes to trying to understand the truths of the world. In fact, the continental tradition seems to try to elevate people to the heights of reality and its operation, with its preoccupation with human agency and a complex socio-cultural narrative. If my scientific mind has taught me anything, its that we’re spectacularly irrelevant in the scheme of things. Philosophy can indeed help answer questions of personal meaning and human interactions, but for me philosophy is so much more grand and important when it helps us to understand the nature of reality itself, independent of our existence. The analytic tradition seems to me much more keen on providing the useful tools to do that.

    I guess one of the only things I can agree on with Badiou is his mathematical ontology. I consider myself a mathematical realist as well, but it seems that Badiou’s ideas on how Platonism work are pretty different from mine, and his handling of mathematical concepts suspect. Roger Scuton seems to sum things up nicely when he says:

    “There is no evidence that I can find in Being and Event that the author really understands what he is talking about when he invokes (as he constantly does) Georg Cantor’s theory of transfinite cardinals, the axioms of set theory, Gödel’s incompleteness proof or Paul Cohen’s proof of the independence of the continuum hypothesis. When these things appear in Badiou’s texts it is always allusively, with fragments of symbolism detached from the context that endows them with sense, and often with free variables and bound variables colliding randomly. No proof is clearly stated or examined, and the jargon of set theory is waved like a magician’s wand, to give authority to bursts of all but unintelligible metaphysics.”

    Apologies to Aravis and others who might disagree, but I see very little of value in the parts of Badiou’s body of work I’ve read (and that of many other continental writers), and I will never hold it against someone like Robert Nola for critiquing it in a way some may find unsavory or denigrating. People deserve respect; viewpoints don’t.


  40. EJ, you are one of the more astute commenters on this site, but I think your critique is a bit heavy-handed. I think you are imputing a bit more into this piece than was intended by the author. I’m sure you’re familiar with Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” I don’t think the OP has aspired to such literary heights, and you’ve not clearly made a case by which to measure either his motivation or the intent of his article, except to dive into the same shallow waters and risk breaking your own neck. It is not clear whether you are more disappointed by the OP’s failure to grasp the profound nuance of the author’s thesis or by the OP’s failure to satirize it adequately.


  41. So, I was introduced to philosophy by ridding Carl Sagan’s and Massimo’s work, who later redirected me to Popper, Hume and the analytical philosophical tradition. The time passed, and many, many, many years later (may be 5, I’m still young) I met in my city a couple of continental philosophers who invited me to a circle of philosophy. At that time I didn’t knew anything about continental philosophy, but I liked the circle, choose to stay in it, and became a formal member of it.

    Yes, I know, some of my everyday meal is Zizek, Badiou, Heidegger and some others. But I’ve come to like my continental friends, and I’ve learned a lot of things from them (they have also caused me a lot of stomachaches, I’m still sympathetic to analytical philosophy after all). My point is that my experience with continental philosophy has been pretty good and I will recommend to any analytical philosopher to search for some moderated continental philosopher friends. After all, If I learned something by reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is that sometimes asking the right questions (among friends) is better than shearing an answer (especially if the answer is 42).

    By the way, when I first read the tittle of the article I said to myself “Are pigs flying in the sky or something?” . After reading it, I happily corroborated that the philosophical world was still pretty much unchanged from what I left it in the morning. I’ve found the article pretty funny.


  42. Very disappointing, especially in light of the new path for the magazine.

    I wonder just how someone’s hubris grows to the point that they feel comfortable mocking something that they would openly acknowledge not understanding. It’s weak when NGT does it with regard to philosophy, and it’s just as weak here.

    Further, resorting to racist stereotyping and caricaturing to demean Badiou speaks far more about the author than it does about Badiou.

    Again, very disappointing.


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