Being and Event, Parts 6-7: Knowledge and Truth

This will be the reading for November 3.

We have seen all along how any given set can actually produced larger sets from out of itself, and how a situation belongs to or is included in a larger state.  A third way of putting this is that representation is “larger” than presentation; the question is, can any of these versions of “larger” actually be quantified?  In other words, is there some kind of hard limit to the excess of representation over presentation?  It turns out the answer is “no.”

There are two significant answers to this problem.  The first is what he calls constructivism.  It only counts those parts which allow themselves to be distinguished, so “thereby reduced to counting only those parts which are commonly nameable, the state, one hopes, will become adequate to the situation again.” (283)  The other response is that of the generic.  The description of constructivism is actually an anatomy of knowledge, while the generic corresponds to truth.

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Being and Event, Part 5: Fidelity and Pascal

This will be the reading for October 6.

Last time, we saw that the intervention is a matter of deciding upon undecidability; the evental multiple is a paradoxical multiple that both belongs to the situation and to itself, thus interposing itself between itself and the void, creating a wholly different sort of openness than the otherwise decidable openness of the infinite limit ordinal.  The act of naming this multiple begins a “long critical trial of action,” a “discipline of time.”

This week, we will look at the anatomy of this discipline.  FIrst, a reading of Pascal will give us a tailor-made example of fidelity in the form of Christianity, as well as hints at the actual “conversion” process.  Second, we will see how fidelity is essentially a matter of deciding which multiples depend upon the evental multiple for their existence; this is Badiou’s concept of ethics.

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Being and Event, Part 5: The Event

This is the reading for September 22.

Every situation we find ourselves in appears to be stable, in the sense that there are no fundamental surprises.  For example, your partner might dump you out of the blue, but being dumped was always in the cards, even if you didn’t actually consider it.  It is not some kind of fundamental novelty.  This stability is the result of the omnipresence of the count-as-one: every situation answers to a basic structure, and that structure only allows for so many possibilities.  In this sense, the author of Ecclesiastes was correct: there is nothing new under the sun.

The core of Alain Badiou’s project is to refute Ecclesiastes.  There are times, incidents wholly submitted to chance, that something genuinely new has the potential to occur.  The singular multiple can act as a site for this newness; something in a given situation can be completed unnoticed, but once named and acted upon, can offer a wild, unpredictable and new view of the world.  These week, we will look at the conditions of such an event.

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Being and Event, Part 3: Nature & Infinity

This is the reading for September 8th.

Philosophers, especially of the continental persuasion, have a deeply ambivalent relationship with the post-Galilean project of mathematizing nature.  Martin Heidegger, in particular, considers this mathematization to be a key element in the history of the forgetting of being.  Badiou offers an alternative history, one in which the project of mathematization offers a startling realization: that natural multiples, counted as ordinals, reveal the infinity of nature.

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Being and Event, Part 2: Excess and Situations

Alain Badiou’s conception of politics at least partially hinges on a distinction between two kinds of relations in set theory: belonging (∈) and inclusion (⊂).  Every mathematical set has elements which are included in it, but do not belong to it; there is always some excess.  In the same way, political states include everyone, but not everyone properly belongs.  He uses this idea to offer a critique of Engels’ concept of the state and hints at the role of political activism, that is, the work of radical justice.

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Being and Event, Part I: Multiple and Void

This is the reading for June 16.  We will be meeting at Bless U at 3:30.

Ontology is traditionally the field of philosophy that deals with existence as such. Variously, it has attempted to describe what kinds of things exist, under what conditions these things exist, and what “to exist” means in the first place. For some time now, philosophy has been mostly concerned with the third point, which could also be described as asking what being is. The question of being could even be described as philosophy’s central question, especially given that science has basically taken over the role of telling us what kinds of things exist. So while it is a question for physics whether or not multi-dimensional strings exist, a philosopher might insist that describing the underlying being of those strings belongs entirely to their field.

Alain Badiou presents a strange and disconcerting thesis, at least to a philosopher’s ears: ontology is not, and never has been, an element of philosophy. The question of what being is is entirely a matter for mathematics. For Badiou, ontology begins with the question of the one vs the many/multiple. The problem is, how can we think the multiple without making it just a sum of ones? In other words, how can a multiple be presented as subtracted from the one? An axiomatic, formal system can solve this problem in a way that normal language can not.

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