This lecture occurred in the Department of French and Italian at Princeton University. The date was October of 2017. This is transcribed by myself for the purposes of personal study only. My work is not to be used for republication.
I don’t know, after all, if I am really a philosopher. If I am really a philosopher, I am certainly a strange animal. Because a philosopher is a strange animal for many reasons. And we know that from the very beginning, from Socrates, for many people in Ancient Greece, Socrates was really a strange animal. And it was at the end a necessity to kill him. And why, after all, why? It is exactly the strangeness of philosophy and the philosopher. I think we can speak of a very simple contradiction. On one side, the goal, the objective, finality, of philosophy is very simple: it is to propose a judgment, an evaluation, of life itself. What is a good life? What is a true life? What is … is it possible to create, to invent, new forms of life? And, we have all possible positions in philosophy, from the nihilistic position — like is always and forever a bad life, and in some sense death is better than life — to the purely optimistic position, everyday life, finally, is good and we can not have good reason to be against our life as it is.
But in another sense, the philosopher and the philosophy is very complex if you read the details it is to invent something obscure or something complex or something abstract with mathematics, jargon, obscure concepts, new definitions, and, after that, we recognize nothing of life in fact. We have, so, in some sense, philosophy is always the attempt to go across many complexities, and all forms of intelligible materials, to go across all of that to the simplicity of the question of life. And so, probably, we can define philosophy, there are many definitions of philosophy, practically one definition by one philosopher. But we can define philosophy as the attempt to create a simple, a new vision, of the possible quality of life across a sort of translation, across the passage, into all forms of possible complexities of the intellectuality itself. And it is why philosophy can practically always say on one side very simple and on the other side obscure and complex. The result, generally, is that, for ordinary people, philosophy and the philosopher is presumed in one sentence. For example, Descartes: “I think, so I am.” Practically everybody knows Descartes’ “I think that I am” but all of the constructions of Descartes after all is not so important. And, my master, [Canguilhem?], a big professor of philosophy is France, would say that the great philosopher is the philosopher we know only by one sentence. If you have many sentences its not a great philosopher.
So when I think like that, my question is: what is my sentence? And in some sense, I can give you one sentence and go away. But the problem is to find the sentence. The true sentence, the definitive sentence, and the sentence which will be your image in all dictionaries and in all encyclopedias: I think so I am. Or, for Socrates: the only thing that I know is that I know nothing. All that is the finality of a philosopher: to be the author of a new definitive sentence.
After that, my idea is just to propose to you the simplest possible presentation of my thinking, of my philosophy. And maybe you can find in the simplest presentation, the fundamental sentence. If you find the fundamental sentence don’t hesitate to say to me what it is. And I can probably pay to you something like a price for finding my last sentence.
The book I will speak of today, which is just finished, practically some weeks before, is the last of a trilogy, of three books, as you know. And the general title of the trilogy is Being & Event; Being & Event is not only the title of the first book but is also the title of my philosophical trajectory. So Immanence of Truths, “Being & Event 3.” Being & Event is in some sense my definitive sentence, because its the title of all my work. Being, in very simple manner, Being, what we can think under the word Being, Being is the part of the real which is the common part of all things. Things are very different but there is a common part of all things, all things which [are] composed [of] the universe. And what is the common part of all things? The common part of all things is that they are: this is the simplest answer to the question. What is common to all things which are is that they are, precisely. And so, the study of this point, the common part of all things, the technical name of which is ontology, and we can say many things concerning this point… The goal of ontology is to study being qua being, or being as such, that is, the common part of all things which exist in the universe.
My hypothesis, which is not only my hypothesis but has been the hypothesis of Democritus, the Atomists, of Gassendi, and many people. My hypothesis is that the common part of all things is that they are composed of things. All things are multiplicities because the knowledge of a thing is always the composition of a thing of some other things. And it is why I affirm that ontology is a science of all possible forms of multiplicity. The different manners to be composed of different things. And it is only because I sustain this point that I can say that ontology is mathematics. Because mathematics is certainly the science of all possible forms of multiplicities: discrete forms, continuous forms, and so on.
In the dialectics of being & event, the question of being is solved at the level of knowledge. We can know some thing of being as such, that is, we can know the different forms, possible forms, of multiplicities. Now, event, an event is a part of the real which is not in the form of what is, which is not reducible to the question of being, but its a part of the real which is in the form of what happens. So we have an opposition between to be and to happen. That is the possibility of novelty which affects a multiplicity. A multiplicity is a form of being, and what happens is an event. An event is something which can affect a multiplicity, transform a multiplicity, inside a multiplicity, but in some sense as an external action.
We can say, if we want to be really simple, that an event is the non-structural part of what exists. The structural part of what exists is being as such and the study of all that is mathematics, but what happens, an event, is something which is not inside the structure of what is as such.
Finally, all of what exists can be thought inside the dialectics of being and event. It is why those three books have the same title: being and event. Because when we speak of one thing we are always in the register of the figure of dialectics between being and event.
Not, in the first book, the title of which is being & event, but it is pretentious because being & event is much more important than being & event as a title. In the first book, I explain how we can understand from the dialectics, inside the dialectics of being and event, what is a truth and what is a subject. I don’t give you any details, only my goal is to explain, to give some proofs or some arguments, to clarify what is a truth and what is a subject, and what is the relationship between truth and subject inside the dialectics of being and event. And I explain that there exists a form of universality of truth. In some sense, its the most important point. So there exists something that is universal, the name of which is truth, and we can give a definition, a formal definition of what is a truth, that is, what sort of form of multiplicity is a truth. We can explain all of that, and, as an abstract result, that it is possible that something universal exists in the form of a truth.
But in the first book, the title of which is Logics of the world, I speak not of universality but of singularity. And why? Why? Because it is a real question. A truth is universal, okay, but its certainly created in a particular world. Truth is not the result of god, of something which is outside the world, outside the universe, this is not my position. My position is that all of what exists exists within a concrete world. And so a truth is universal only if we can understand that something universal is created in something absolutely singular: a world, a territory, and so on. And the first question is: what is a world? What is a world, if it is possible that inside the singularity of a world you find the possibility of something universal in the form of a truth. And I give many details to explain why the singularity of a world is — what is a world — I give a definition of a world, and my conclusion, my mysterious conclusion, is that a world is in the form of a topos de [Grothendieck?]. I retain the mystery as such.
I have after that a complete concept of what the form of a world is, and also what the difference is between two worlds, between two singularities. I admit, naturally, the infinite multiplicities of worlds. How is it possible to recognize the universality of a truth in a world which is completely different of the world in which the truth has been created? That is the most difficult. You have a definition of the universality of truth, you understand, you have a definition of what is the singularity of a world, and you know that a truth is always a creation in a singular world. And so, how can we recognize the universality of a truth which is completely different of the world in which the truth has been created? How can we, if you want, separate the universality from the singularity? If the world was absolutely singular and if a truth is created in a world, then the universality of a truth is conditioned by the singularity of the world. And how can we recognize the universality if we are outside of the world, in another world? So universality is not universality, it is only universal only for a specific world and not for all possible worlds.
Today the dominant answer to this question is in fact that we can not. We can not recognize the universality of something if it exists in a different world. A different world, a different country, as a classical example. And the position today is that how we can recognize the existence of a truth inside of a culture which is not at all the culture in which the truth has been created, invent, produced? The dominant position is that finally we can not say that something is universal in one culture and is also in another culture. And to assume the difference of culture is in fact affirmative that nothing is purely universal. And the dominant ideology today is relativism. Relativism, that is, all creations, all values are relative to a cultural context. A context that can be culture, can be language, can be positions, can be gender, and so on. But we can not say that is something is universal without saying in what form of a culture it has been produced, and if we are obliged to recognize the universality as a form of singularity, in fact we don’t recognize, really, universality. In this vision, finally, universality is something of an imperialist nature. Universality is always to say that my creation is universal, and to impose the universality of my creation to other cultures, other countries, other genders, and so on.
That is a strong position, in fact. At the end of my second book, Logics of the world, I am directly confronted with that sort of argument. If you have a structure of a world which is different from the structure of another world, how can you speak of something universal without imposing the form of a culture where the truth is created to another form. And we can speak at this level of something which is of an imperialist nature. And we can say that the culture of the Western world has been imposed an imperialist to all other forms of culture.
In my third book I define a possible answer to this strong critiques. I propose an immanence of truth to refute, in some sense, the contemporary relativist. But my attempt to refute the contemporary relativist without saying that the universality which is created in the world is completely imposed to the judgment of another world, another culture. How? What is my attempt to save universality? To save the universality of the terrible accusation that it is an imperialism.
It is by saying that some singular creations, and I name singular creations with their context, with their world where they have been created. So I name singular creation, for the moment, creations of truth, but creations of truth in a specific world. But I say that some singular creations, notably in art, in science, in politics, and in some forms of life, more generally, can and must be understood not only as something universal in the sense of being an event, but as something absolute. Finally, my dialectical development, which was at the beginning being & event, becomes a complex dialectics between universality, singularity, and absoluteness.
I can say that my first book is about universality. But I object to universality that there exists singularity, so I hide the second book, which is about singularity. But I object that if there exists singularities which are completely different how can there exist universality? And so I write my third book: something is true universality and not only universal but absolute in some sense.
At this point, we have the development of the category of absoluteness, which is in fact the true subject of immanence of truths. Because Immanence of Truths signifies that truth is inherent to the absolute perception and this absolute perception can exist outside the difference of singularities.
After that the most difficult problem becomes that there is a close relationship, in fact in all the history of philosophy, between absoluteness and infinity. We can not find something strictly absolute if we stay in the field of finitude. And it is why absoluteness has very often taken the form of a God, a theological form, absoluteness is transcendent. Absoluteness exists because it is something which is outside the opposition between universality and singularity. A god is not singular and is not universal. A god is absolute. And from absoluteness we can derive something like a new relationship between universality and singularity. My position is to find the possibility of an immanent absoluteness; immanence of truths is, in the end, an immanence of absoluteness.
To escape the classical solution of our problem here, it has been by the transcendence of god. So, at the end, the religious solution of the difficulty. Which is, in fact, the most important fact of a big part of the history of humanity as such, to speak of love and to have religious conviction, is, finally, to resolve the problem of the contradiction between what is universal — what has universal value — and, finally, what is singular in history, culture, and so on. And so god is a solution. God has always been a solution, a very effective solution, a very efficient solution. But, my attempt, my philosophical attempt, is to have the same result as the theological result, but without God. We can say that my final philosophical affirmation is that we can have absoluteness without divinity.
If I return to the structure of my work, we can say that Being & Event was the study of multiplicities. Ontology, it was the study of “what is a multiplicity?” Inside the theory of multiplicity there was the possibility of giving a definition of universal truth. But the definition of a universal truth is not the guarantee of the existence of a universal truth. So, at the end of the third book, I have a clear definition of what is a universal truth but I have no problem of the possibility of the existence of something like that because I have no theory of singularity. In the second book, Logics of the world, it is a study of structures. Of singularity, of the logics of singularities, of all forms of structures, formal structures, social structures, national structures, and so on. All are forms of singularities. And at the end of the two books we have the problem of the relationship between the two books. And the relationship between the two books is unclear. Because we can say, okay, but finally, your theory of the ontology of truth, of the being of truth, can not be clear inside of singularities, inside particular structures. Immanence of Truths is the study of a possible trace in multiplicity and in structure of some form of infinity.
In fact, the point is to demonstrate the possibility of a trace of infinity in the finite. Because if we have no trace of the infinity in the finite we can have no immanence of truths. Because we have the complete difference between finite and the infinity, and we return to the religious solution. If infinite is forever separated from the finite then its true that we are near the solution of the transcendence of God. The point, the fundamental point of the entire book is to establish that there is a possible existence, even in the form of a pure trace, a pure symbol; but a possible existence of infinity in some particular form the finite. So, immanence of the infinite truth in our finite existence and not outside.
The book is a book which goes from finitude to finitude by the mediation of the study of the infinite. And, you know, it is also the fundamental way of the religious position, because the religious position is always to examine the weakness of the finite, the corruption of finite existence, and so on, to go to the transcendence of God, and to explain that from the point of view of the transcendence of God we can return to save the finite; to produce in the finite something like redemption. So we have that sort of movement: finite, infinite, finite, which has been for a very long time the true solution to the fundamental problem of absoluteness. Which is the fundamental problem proposed [by a position] which is against relativism. Finally, to be against relativist it is by necessity, if you can not accept to be in the purely differences of structures, and so, to be in the impossibility of something universal, you must introduce absoluteness, but introduction of absoluteness is always something that goes from finite to finite by the mediation of something that is infinite. My book is precisely, finally, this movement.
For the moment, the book exists in French. But maybe its a singularity. Maybe its not universal at all. Maybe, when translated by Ken Reinhardt in English, we can not recognize anything. Maybe the translation of my book will be the complete victory of relativism. It is the responsibility of Ken.
You know, this is just a story, after all, this complication. You know, I proposed a new translation of the big book on Plato’s Republic, from the Greek language to French language, with some transformations in the French language. I am kind of seizing the universality of the Greek book and I produce something in French coming from the universality of the book that may not be of the singularity of the book. After that, my book has been translated into English. So, Greek, French, English, and after that the book has been translated in Chinese. But I know that the translator in China, worked not on my French but on the English translation. But after that, what is my book, finally? Plato, Badiou, translation in English, translation in Chinese; I think that if Plato reads the Chinese version he won’t recognize anything. And it is something interesting in the relationship, precisely, between a truth and singularity. Because it is a philosophical book, so it is a book dedicated to truth. But when you arrive at the Chinese version maybe the universality of truth is not exactly the same that it was at the beginning, but we hope it is. So I hope that it will be translated by my friend Ken Reinhardt, of which I owe him devotion, we can recognize that, finally, there is something absolute, and which is something universal across the difference of the languages, so across the singularities.
I just can say to you that section one is directly about the classical form of finitude. And section one is about a particular form of finitude, which is, in one sense, the modern finitude. We can say that what is finitude in the numeric world, if you want, in the world of communication. And, the question, the movement to the infinite begins in section three, and section four, section five, section six are all dedicated to the exploration of the possible form of the infinite. And in section six, we have at the top, and we ave at the top the possibility to think something infinite. And we must return to finitude, and we return to finitude in section seven, eight, and nine. And in sections seven, eight, and nine, we have the forms of finitude which are in a relationship to the infinite, so they have something absolute. The movement, the general movement of the book, is from finitude, in the strict sense, finitude as finitude, that is the world as it is in some sense, and after that we have, progressively, the light inside the world of the infinite. And after that we have the return of finitude, but with the clear explanation of what sort of finitude can be with absolute value.
I think my proof is a good one. So I think that I have solved the classical and fundamental problem, and not a problem of contemporary relativism. The fundamental problem of how we can affirm that there exists universal truths if there exists different worlds; different worlds historically, geographically, in language, culture, and so on. I insist on the point that this problem has been the very content of the religious vision of the world. Because the religious vision was a solution to this problem, and is solution which is also in a close relationship to some fable, to some singularities, and it is a question of faith. it is a question of faith. So I propose to solve the same problem, in some sense, in the same manner — finitude, infinity, finitude — but without transcendence. And it is why I give to the book the title of immanence.
To finish, I read the last words of the book. They are very simple. The last page of the book, in English. But in my bad English. Because I am sure that my bad English stays near the French. That is guaranteed for me.
“From the beginning to the end, that book proposes a complete thinking for our time. A thinking made of contemporary materials of our time. These materials come from the best of all of the history of philosophy, from mathematics, from poetry, from politics, and from the profound experiences of love. A thinking about what? About the distance between ordinary and dominant opinions on one side. On that side, I am near nothingness. I am effaced of the global determination. And on the other side, truths, in the form of a creation, an invention, a work. The distance between what is relative and submitted, and what is absolute and free. Philosophy is oriented by the idea of a True life. With philosophy we learn a very important point. Every human being is able of truths. But not every human being is able to know that he or her is able of truths. Philosophy is the knowledge of the existence of a universal possibility to assume some truths. Philosophy gives to everybody the means to say ‘I am near a mortal nothingness, I am effaced in a monstrous universal, but inside of me, for the poor thing that I am, the true life inscribed as a possibility.’ To be immanent to the absolute is possible. The true life is possible. It is sufficient that I accept to understand that I am able of all of that.”