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Ungrounding Sufficiency

If the established ground… has the character of a root, then it must be ground in such a way that it lets the stems grow out from itself, lending them support and stability — Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.

Taking Heidegger’s dictum at face value we recognise that for something, philosophy, to grow and support itself then it must be grounded. If we were to say that grounding is like the foundations of the building then this would burden philosophy with an immutability or stasis. In the interview with Malabou she states “a groundwork is never a groundwork, it’s always a re-grounding work”. But does the re-grounding take place elsewhere, a place different from the beginning or does philosophy continuously return to build on the same ground? To attempt to answer this question I want to move from the site of philosophy to the non-standard project of Francois Laruelle.

What follows then is a facing of the problem of grounding head on. To do this I will use the material Francois Laruelle has given us to think differently about the grounding of philosophy. Laruelle’s project is one which ungrounds philosophy via recourse to scientific method. We will find out why it is an ungrounding and not simply a re-grounding later. For now, we will begin by focusing on the concept that is so vital to Laruelle’s work that allows it to take a step away (but notcompletely outside) from philosophy.

How a philosophy is grounded is a complex entanglement of meta-philosophical posturing that is both rhetorical and productive. Rhetorical because it wants to pull you in and entangle you in a theory endowed with the good news; productive because it needs to struggle to support such a claim. The necessity to support itself becomes a paranoia which always lends to a glance back at itself and towards the history of philosophy. Malabou hints at something similar to this, “It is in fact that the groundwork can’t ever be a groundwork, because it is a repetition and because it is relative to what it founds”. The re-grounding is influenced by what has come before but is not identical to it. Philosophy continues on its trajectory while staging interventions and creating an excess as it does so.

What happens when the excess becomes too much? When the ground becomes endowed with too much, does it become weakened? If so, then there must be either a re-grounding in the pure sense of this term, a move away from the original position, or a theoretical anti-foundationalism. Laruelle’s notion of the principle of sufficient philosophy goes a long way to helping us address the problem of re-grounding and repetition. This concept identifies within philosophy a nature that is “self-positing/donating/naming/deciding/grounding” (1999, 139). By being self-grounding philosophy is circular. If we are to take this seriously then Philosophical re-grounding can be seen to be nothing more than a return. It is by opening us up to this that Laruelle gives us “the means to finally exit from philosophy as self-encompassing” (2013, 44). We gain the ability to stop treading the same ground.

This principle was conceived by Laruelle through an engagement with the history of philosophy. In his early career Laruelle wrote five books that were “still entirely philosophical” (2012, 4), tied to an appenticeship in philosophy. But it couldn’t last. From seeing in Nietzsche the excessive nature of philosophy a shift began to occur in Laruelle’s thought, and he came to identify the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy (from now on PSP). There are two functions to PSP: descriptive and degenerative. Firstly, in its descriptive mode PSP hopes to highlight the hierarchy of knowledge which philosophy creates both from itself and for itself. In other words, philosophy grounds itself as ultimate knowledge, as that which has right to speak for the Real. Badiou is the sufficient philosopher par excellence, and his four truth conditions attest to a priority of philosophy above anything else. In Badiou’s framework we get a “simple ‘inventory’ function” (Laruelle, 2013:14), an archiving of fields of knowledge into the dominion of philosophy. This is exemplary when Laruelle claims “He [Badiou] practices mathematics to teach and to teach himself, at best to illustrate the concept; a matter of apprenticeship, of the deciphering of a constituted science about which and through which philosophy can educate itself” (2013, 7). Moreover, Laruelle calls this philosophy’s narcissistic image of itself (2013:153) due to the fact that it wants to use regional fields of knowledge to reinforce its own status. Regional knowledges for Laruelle are those forms of thought which take place outside of philosophy: art, mathematics, science and so on. Badiou’s staking claim is to outline a system that is mathematical, but the mathematics become subsumed by a foundational philosophical outlook.

Following from this how can the notion that non-standard philosophy is degenerative be supported? By asking this we are attempting to answer what non-standard philosophy can do and the effects it has on philosophy beyond mere description. Firstly, we need to acknowledge what Laruelle means when he says that non-philosophy is performative, an immanent practice rather than a programme (2003, 177). Non-philosophy does not sit diametrically opposed to philosophy, nor is it an exterior force hoping for the negation of philosophy. Instead, by being immanent to philosophy Laruelle is able to produce a science of philosophy rather than a meta-philosophy. Laruelle’s science of philosophy posits the One or Real, which philosophy has consistently purported to grasp, as totally autonomous from philosophy. This action removes the sufficiency of philosophy, its ability to “co-determine the Real” (1999, 139). Non-standard philosophy thus undermines philosophy, not necessarily negating its validity but decomposing its pretensions of authority.

Unravelling the concept of PSP and the negativity within non-standard philosophy we gain an entrance into the affirmation of Laruelle’s work: the democracy of thought. For Laruelle a ‘democracy of thought’ comes when we deny the hegemony of philosophy and think in terms of an equality of knowledge. What Laruelle calls a ‘unified theory’ has this effect. A unified theory always comprises of X and philosophy, where the x can be substituted by any regional knowledge, as opposed to a philosophy of X. A unified theory operates on the basis that there is no foundational way of theorising.  To claim one form of knowledge as foundational would be to develop a hierarchical formation of disciplines in their relation to thought. What occurs then is twofold: an ungrounding of philosophy, and as a result of this, the liberation of all regional knowledges. Liberation occurs on the grounds that a unified theory does not allow for the subsumption of regional knowledges into a philosophical system. Regional knowledges remain intact, in their generic nature.

What is so vital about PSP is in the observation that philosophy is continuously attempting to think about the One or Real while falling back only on itself. The Real is foreclosed to thought and to philosophy, meaning one can “come to know from-the-One when one begins to realize that all discourses persist through the vision-in-One, but do not in themselves constitute the discourse on the One” (Smith, 2010). The multiple grounds that philosophy had built itself upon now appear hallucinatory.

To return to our main problematic then, that of grounding or re-grounding, non-standard philosophy is both an ungrounding and an anti-grounding. Philosophy becomes ungrounded when we are able to recognise thought as constructed heterogeneously and as insufficient. This does not mean that philosophy is not worthwhile, a superfluous spouting of platitudes. This would be ridiculously naive to claim. Through an engagement with Laruelle’s work philosophy becomes mutated. No longer do we see it so simply as mediation between thought and the world. Philosophy has been materialised, exposed as contingent and mutable, transformed into the bricks and mortar for an altogether more generic cause.

By Liam


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This entry was posted on June 10, 2013 by in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , .
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