Alain Badiou

French writer and philosopher

Alain Badiou (born January 17, 1937) is a contemporary French philosopher, Badiou has written about the concepts of being, truth, event and the subject in a way that, he claims, is neither postmodern nor simply a repetition of modernity. Badiou has been involved in a number of political organisations, and regularly comments on political events. Badiou argues for resurrecting the practice of communism.

Alain Badiou in 2006



Being and Event, transl. by Oliver Feltham; (New York: Continuum, 2005)

  • … necessitating the unilateral choice of one of three orientations […] I would summarize the disjointed temporal multiple which organizes our site in the following manner:

_1. We are the contemporaries of a third epoch of science after the Greek and Galilean. The caesura which opens this third epoch is not (as with the Greek) an invention - that of demonstrative mathematics - nor is it (like the Galilean) a break - that which mathematized the discourse of physics. It is a split, through, which the very nature of the base of mathematical rationality reveals itself, as does the character of the decision of thought which establishes it.

_2. We are equally the contemporaries of a second epoch of the doctrine of the Subject. It is no longer the founding subject, centered and reflexive, whose theme runs from Descartes to Hegel and which remains legible in Marx and Freud (in fact, in Husserl and Sartre). The contemporary Subject is void, cleaved, a-substantial, and ir-reflexive. More over, one can only suppose its existence in the context of particular processes whose conditions are rigorous.

_3. Finally, we are contemporaries of a new departure in the doctrine of truth, following the dissolution of its relation of organic connection to knowledge. It is noticeable, after the fact, that to this day veracity, as I call it, has reigned without quarter: however strange it may seem, it is quite appropriate to say that truth is a new word in Europe (and elsewhere). Moreover, this theme of truth crosses the paths of Heidegger (who was the first to subtract it from knowledge), the mathematicians (who broke with the object at the end of the last century, just as they broke with adequation), and the modern theories of the subject (which displace truth from its subject pronunciation).

[from “Introduction,” Being and Event, p. 2-3]

  • The initial thesis of my enterprise - on the basis of which this entanglement of periodizations is organized by extracting the sense of each - is the following: the science of being qua being has existed since the Greeks - such is the sense and status of mathematics. However, it is only today that we have the means to know this. It follows from this thesis that philosophy is not centred on ontology - which exists as a separate and exact discipline- rather it circulates between this ontology (this, mathematics), the modern theories of he subject and its own history. The contemporary complex of the conditions of philosophy includes everything referred to in my first three statements: the history of ‘Western’ thought, post-Cantorian mathematics, psychoanalysis, contemporary art and politics. Philosophy does not coincide with any of these conditions; nor does it map out the totality to which they belong. What philosophy must do is propose a conceptual framework in which the contemporary compossibilty of these conditions can be grasped. Philosophy can only do this - and this is what frees it from any foundational ambition, in which it would lose itself- by designating amongst its own conditions, as a singular discursive situation, ontology itself in the form of pure mathematics. This is precisely what delivers philosophy and ordains it to the care of truths.
  • Introduction, p.3-4
  • I then arrived at the certainty that it was necessary to posit that mathematics writes that which, of being itself, is pronounceable in the field of a pure theory of the Multiple. The entire history of rational thought appeared to me to be illuminated once one assumed the hypothesis that mathematics, far from being a game without object, draws the exceptional severity of its law from being bound to support the discourse of ontology.
    • Introduction
  • If the establishment of the thesis 'mathematics is ontology' is the basis of this book, it is in no way its goal.
    • Introduction
  • This book founds a doctrine which is effectively post-Cartesian, or even post-Lacanian, a doctrine of what, for thought, both un-binds the Heidegerean connection between being and truth and institutes the subject, not as support or origin, but as fragment of the process of a truth.
    • Introduction
  • If one category had to be designated as an emblem of my thought, it would be neither Cantor's pure multiple, nor Godel's constructible, nor the void, by which being is named, nor even the event, in which the supplement of what-is-not-being-qua-being originates. It would be the generic.
    • Introduction
  • Since its Parmenidean organization, ontology has built the portico of its ruined temple out of the following experience: what presents itself is essentially multiple; what presents itself is essentially one. The reciprocity of the one and being is certainly the inaugural axiom of philosophy - Leibniz formulation is excellent; 'What is not a being is not a being' - yet it is also its impasse; an impasse in which the revolving doors of Plato's Parmenides introduce us to the singular joy of never seeing the moment of conclusion arrive. For if being is one, then one must posit that what is not one, the multiple, is not . But this is unacceptable for thought because what is presented is multiple and one cannot see how there could be an access to being outside all presentation. If presentation is not, does it still make sense to designate what presents (itself) as being? On the other hand, if presentation is, then the multiple necessarily is.
    • Meditation One: The One and the Multiple: a priori conditions of any possible ontology
  • We find ourselves on the brink of a decision, a decision to break with the arcana of the one and the multiple in which philosophy is born and buried, phoenix of its own sophistic consumption.
    • Meditation One: The One and the Multiple: a priori conditions of any possible ontology
  • Everything turns on mastering the gap between the presupposition (that must be rejected) of a being of the one and the thesis of its 'there is'.
    • Meditation One: The One and the Multiple: a priori conditions of any possible ontology

Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (2000)


transl. by Peter Hallward; (New York: Verso, 2000): ISBN 978-1-85984-435-9 (paperback); ISBN 978-1-85984-297-3

  • According to the way it is generally used today, the term 'ethics' relates above all to the domain of human rights, 'the rights of man'- or, by derivation, the rights of living beings. We are supposed to assume the existence of a universally recognizable human subject possessing 'rights' that are in some sense natural: the right to live, to avoid abusive, to enjoy 'fundamental' liberties (of opinion, of expression, of democratic choice in the election of governments, etc.) These rights are held to be self-evident, and the result of a wide consensus. 'Ethics' is a matter of busying ourselves with these rights, of making sure that they are respected.
    • Chapter One, "Does Man Exist?"
  • In the political domain, deprived of any collective politcal landmark, stripped of any notion of the 'meaning of History’; and no longer able to hope for or expect a social revolution, many intellectuals, along with much of public opinion, have been won over to the logic of a capitalist economy and a parliamentary democracy.
    • Chapter One, "Does Man Exist?"
  • The heart of the question concerns the presumption of a universal human Subject, capable of reducing ethical issues to matters of human rights and humanitarian actions. We have seen that ethics subordinates the identification of this subject to the universal recognition of the evil that is done to him. Ethics defines man as a victim. It will be objected: 'No! You are forgetting the active subject, the one that intervenes against barbarism!' So let us be precise: man is the being who is capable of recognizing himself as a victim.
    • Chapter One, Section III: "Man Living animal or immortal singularity?"

Miscellaneous quotes

  • Truth is a new word in Europe (and elsewhere).
    • Original French: La vérité est un mot neuf en Europe (et ailleurs).
    • From L'être et l'événement. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1988. ISBN 2020098628.
    • The quote is a variation on Louis de Saint-Just, "Happiness is a new idea in Europe".
  • Without mathematics, we are blind.
    • Original French: Hors les mathématiques, nous sommes aveugles.
    • From Court traité d'ontologie transitoire. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1998. ISBN 2020348853.
  • It is thus quite simply false that whereof one cannot speak (in the sense of 'there is nothing to say about it that specifies it and grants it separating properties'), thereof one must be silent. It must on the contrary be named.
    • Original French: Il est donc tout simplement faux que ce dont on ne peut parler (au sens ou il n'y a rien à en dire qui le spécifie, qui lui accorde des propriétés séparatrices), il faille le taire. Il faut au contraire le nommer...
    • From Manifesto for Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. ISBN 0791442209.
    • The quote is a commentary on Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent".
  • The cinema is a place of intrinsic indiscernibility between art and non-art.
    • From Considérations sur l'état actuel du cinéma (1999), translated as Philosophy and Cinema in Infinite Thought: truth and the return of philosophy. London: Continuum, 2003. ISBN 0826467245.
  • It must be said that today, at the end of its semantic evolution, the word 'terrorist' is an intrinsically propagandistic term. It has no neutral readability. It dispenses with all reasoned examination of political situations, of their causes and consequences.
    • From Philosophy and the 'war against terrorism' in Infinite Thought: truth and the return of philosophy. London: Continuum, 2003. ISBN 0826467245.
  • If there exists one unique great imperial power which is always convinced that its most brutal interests coincide with the Good; if it is true that every year the USA spends more on their military budget than Russia, China, France, England and Germany put together; and if that Nation-State, devoted to military excess, has no public idol other than wealth, no allies other than servants, and no view of other peoples apart from an indifferent, commercial and cynical one; then the basic freedom of States, peoples and individuals consists in doing everything and thinking everything in order to escape, as much as possible, from the commandments, interventions and interference of that imperial power.
    • From Philosophy and the 'war against terrorism' in Infinite Thought: truth and the return of philosophy. London: Continuum, 2003. ISBN 0826467245.
  • In my view, only those who have had the courage to work through Lacan's anti-philosophy without faltering deserve to be called 'contemporary philosophers'.
    • From Vérité: forçage et innomable, translated as Truth: Forcing and the Unnameable in Theoretical Writings. London: Continuum, 2004. ISBN 0826461468.
  • Art attests to what is inhuman in man.
    • Original French: L'art atteste ce qu'il y a d'inhumain dans l'humain.
    • From Le siècle. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2005. ISBN 2020579308.
  • I am surprised to see that today everything that does not amount to surrender pure and simple to generalized capitalism, let us call it thus, is considered to be archaic or old-fashioned, as though in a way there existed no other definition of what it means to be modern than, quite simply, to be at all times caught in the dominant forms of the moment.
    • From Can Change Be Thought? A Dialogue with Alain Badiou by Bruno Bosteels, in Alain Badiou: Philosophy And Its Conditions, edited by Gabriel Riera. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005. ISBN 0791465047.
  • Let us say in passing that since (philosophical) remedies are often worse than the malady, our age, in order to be cured of the Plato sickness, has swallowed such doses of a relativist, vaguely skeptical, lightly spiritualist and insipidly moralist medicine, that it is in the process of gently dying, in the small bed of its supposed democratic comfort.
    • From Plato, Our Dear Plato!, Magazine littéraire, no. 447 (November 2005).
  • We live in a contradiction, a brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian – where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone – is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we’re lucky that we don’t live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it’s better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it’s not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don’t make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don’t cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.

Quotes About Alain Badiou

  • Badiou is, by any criteria, one of the most significant and original philosophers working in France today and perhaps the only serious rival of Deleuze and Derrida for that meaningless but unavoidable title of 'most important contemporary French philosopher'.
    • Peter Hallward, Ethics
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