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Ethics, riots and the real: Badiou's 'politics'

Lecturer: A.J. Bartlett

Originally Taught: Summer School 2016

This short course considers key aspects of Alain Badiou's political conditioning of philosophy.

In his Theses of Feuerbach, Marx famously declared 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.'

In Badiou's estimation politics asserts itself as its own thought and so as actively manifesting in specific worlds or situations what a collective or a people is capable of. Thus it is in act the thought of real change. For Badiou, philosophy is only possible if politics is one of its conditions. (The others, mathematics, love and art similarly inscribe within them their own specific forms of change.) As such what Badiou seeks to effect is a philosophy of real change, which is to say a philosophy that thinks the thought of politics. This definition distances his work, he argues, from what is called political philosophy, which for Badiou maintains a proprietary relation to politics, effecting its norms and rules of behaviour and thus finally determining what it is for politics to exist. Badiou calls this version of politics 'the political': thus less what a people is capable of, more what it is legitimate to do with them.

Looking at what Badiou calls the 'ethics of truths' and 'the passion for the real', and following the threefold schema of the riot ('it is right to rebel against the reactionaries'), we will see in these manifestations the various ways Badiou has been ever mindful of Marx's call and thus we will see what a philosophy of real change opposes to the rule of interpretation. To explore these relations we will look schematically at three key texts: Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, The Century and The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings.