The author of this post is James Stanescu
What’s in a prefix? The non- of non-philosophy, as Anthony frequently reminds us, is the same as the non- of non-Euclidean geometry or the non- of non-standard physics. Indeed, Laruelle, it seems, has taken to referring to this as non-standard philosophy rather than simply non-philosophy. The non- is not, therefore, an anti- or an un-, it does not signify either an oppositional discourse, or a mark of being outside and other. In the same way that non-Euclidean geometry is still geometry, or that people working on non-standard physics still see themselves as physicists. What does the non- of non-Euclidean geometry and non-standard physics have in common? Well, both are moves that question the defining axioms of their respective fields. In both cases they argue that the axioms that geometry and physics use to describe the world are not always sufficient for the task. Furthermore, these non-s are not primarily critical projects. They simply indicate a field in which there exist several positive projects (such as hyperbolic geometry, or string theory and M-theory). The non-, then, is fundamentally a marker of an immanent relation. It does not come from outside as a master discourse to finally tell philosophy what it is, but rather comes from within philosophy (or physics, or geometry) in order to re-examine its fundamental axioms in order for its intellectual projects to continue. Or at least I think so. This is probably a good as time as any to point out that I don’t know anything about Laruelle (and I know roughly the same amount about theology), but here I am anyway. But, if non-standard philosophy wishes to change or adapt axioms or principles of philosophy, what axioms and principles are under consideration?
One of the principles, at least, is philosophy’s move to an hierarchy of thought, and an end to the war between disciplines and within philosophy. “[B]ecause under the current regime of thought we can only enter into an already declared and ongoing war between philosophy and theology and the various internal wars raging between philosophers and theologians. This war of opinion is endemic to philosophical and theological thought” (56). And, “Laruelle’s identification of a war within philosophy may be a stumbling block for those who want to engage with his work. However, even if we bar this word ‘war’ from our description of philosophy (and theology and ecology) there is undoubtedly still an antagonism between philosophers, theologians, and science. This is clear in each of the ecologies, philosophies, and theologies reviewed in the preceding chapter and it would seem that, aside from a few fits and starts here and there, neither side is serious about fostering peace, what Laruelle calls a democracy (of) thought and even a communism (of) thought, between their disciplines” (60). So, we have a situation where the relationship of thought to thought is one of war, or at least antagonism. But where does this antagonism come from? One place to look, at least within philosophy, is within the idea of first philosophy. First philosophy, as the name implies, is the philosophical domain that has to be understood first, before other domains of philosophy can make sense. So, for example, ontology is first philosophy, because how can you understand what anything else is, unless you first understand what it even means to be. Except, of course, epistemology is first philosophy, because how can you understand beings in the world, if you don’t first understand what we can even comprehend? But, necessarily politics is first philosophy, because how the questions of comprehension and being is never neutral, and always mediated by our social and political places. Although, ethics is first philosophy, because our relationship to other beings precedes our social and political understanding. However, rhetoric or aesthetics is first philosophy, because the distribution of the sensible is what first structures our relations to other beings. Etcetera. And while the debate over first philosophy might seem a little silly, the stakes are that whatever is first philosophy becomes the most important. It becomes a way of both overvaluing your own intellectual contributions, while also devaluing the intellectual contributions of others. And while we might not call this war, this is certainly the grounds for hostility. And this occurs not just within philosophy, but also, of course, between disciplines. So, one might, as Heidegger does, argue that science itself cannot think, and always requires philosophy to think for it. Or, on the other hand, as Stephen Hawking has argued, philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with science. So, what should we do with all of the competing claims about what is first philosophy (or first discipline)? Two moves need to be resisted. First, we must resist trying to determine who is ultimately right about first philosophy. Second, we must also resist the impulse to falsify the claims of first philosophy. Rather, we must admit that all the claims to first philosophy have merit. “The war is intractable because, by the criteria of intellectual labor, each form of thought operates or works. John Mullarkey discusses this in his own reading of Laruelle, showing how particular forms of thought that claim to be at odds with one another nevertheless all still have some level of success sufficient to allow them to believe these forms of thoughts should persist, that they are right and helpful. Yet, the respective metadiscourse, in our case the metaphilosophy or metatheology, ‘imply that only one should work—their own. Their claims to truth are mutually exclusive. [...] And yet they still do both work’” (59). (This all has the feel of pragmatism to me, but that is an intellectual current missing from Anthony’s book, and I don’t know enough Laruelle to really comment). What emerges is a series of mutually exclusive intellectual claims that are all, at the same time, functional (or at least functional enough). Rather than first philosophy, then, we have what I have called second philosophies. We have a lattice of interconnected and entangled intellectual currents, which are still semi-discrete and unique. And this is the profound contribution of the work before us. Rather than proposing the thought of ecology, or the ecological thought, we are given an ecology of thinking. Each intellectual system is its own ecosystem. They all have their own resilience, they all have their own migrations, and they all interact and change each other. The rainforest and the desert, the prairie and the tundra, none are somehow a first ecosystem that you have to understand to understand the others. All of them, however, have claims on their importance and centrality. All of them work, and all of them break.
By removing the understanding of first philosophy, we remove the ground upon which we traditionally work. Laruelle understands this elementally. “Philosophy, Laruelle says, thinks in the posture of an element. It privileges thinking then from the dirt (called earth usually) or sometimes as fire, and this is reflected in its “corpuscular” posture tied to old forms of physics. Non-standard philosophy thinks according to the undulatory character of the waves and so the sea [...] becomes an interesting metaphor-element to think from [...]. Instead of being tied to a corpuscular earth, secure in our foundations, or burning ourselves up in a divine fire, the non-philosopher sets out with wild abandon on the sea. This wild abandon renounces any claim to foundation, to the idea that the philosopher owns some bit of the earth, but instead that they are in-the-water without property rights, without ideational security” (120-121). I want to gesture to two ways to extend this thought. The first is to look toward Luce Irigaray’s The Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche and Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies. In both cases, fluidity and the element of water being excluded from philosophy is tied with a certain phobia of women. The second way I want to gesture is to Carl Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth. In it, Schmitt points out that the sea represented a challenge for international jurisprudence that had been based on territory. In particular, the sea was seen as res omnium and/or res nullius. The sea belonged to everyone, and it belonged to no one. Or, it belongs to everyone because it belongs to no one. And is there a better image of the democracy or communism of thought? And perhaps in our more romantic moments, we are all earth liberationists (in both senses of that phrase), or pirates of the high seas of philosophy, hoisting the black flag. Indeed, alongside Deleuze’s mediators, and Stengers’ and Latour’s diplomats, we should add the pirate. And in our more interdisciplinary moments, we should perhaps understand the prefix of the non- in another way, as that of the non-regular combatant, the pirate who all the territories of thinking cannot fully internalize.