Philosophy and the Continuing Quest for Being (Excerpts MA Thesis)


I have been mulling for quite some time whether to post here (also at  what I consider to be the most important chapter of my thesis, and this is it. I just wonder how it is going to be contextualized within the contemporary turn to speculative realism that I am beginning to take seriously to the extent of relinquishing some of the assumptions that I painfully embraced.

For readers and followers of speculative realism Heidegger is no longer a key player in today’s most intriguing trend in Western philosophy (in contrast to the omnipresence of Heidegger in the thesis) in light of its post-phenomenological turn away from the subject. What is surprising is that Heidegger was among the first, among many important thinkers who preceded him, notably Nietzsche, to develop a critique of the subject and/or humanism that to him characterized the failure of Western philosophy to understand what is at stake in understanding the essence of Being. In the end Heidegger consigned the radical intuitive potential of this critique to the ‘releasement’ of understanding Being, to the mysterious work of Ereignis which instantiates itself, manifests itself as Event, the sudden arrival of an unanticipated ‘twist, turn (Kehre) to the structure of the given or determined situation (history) that to him can fundamentally alter the way we think of Being. This is nonetheless consistent with what Heidegger also said of the  ‘ontological difference’ that has a character of a passage, that is, ephemeral and transitional, in respect of the great unknown that is said to be ultimately foreclosed to the human mind’s power of anticipation. If the ontological difference has been a key factor in understanding Being, if it has been the chief guiding force of thought that has shaped the way we think of Being, then its transitory character already suggests that Being is historical or temporal. Our understanding of Being can also change in the extent to which the ontological difference can historically mutate. This means that the dominance of the way of thinking Being may cease to be determinant of Dasein.

In post-continental philosophy Francois Laruelle would go as far as to claim that Being can mutate into something more fundamental, more singular in its status as the last instance of the destiny of Being, its being finally made available to human witnessing how it is transcendentally unilateralized, originally occasioned by something inimitable and unobjectifiable. This transcendental process is not a pure transcendental operation, but is rather the radical act of immanence in the form of axiomatic objectification that transcends the limitations (in the sense of interminable circularity) of significative language (where resistance to hegemonic definitions is high) in its quest to name the real Real in contrast to the determinable circularity of axioms, such as the axiom of choice that decides where the boundary of language lies. It decides from the standpoint of objectivity possible in set theory where no infinity escapes being enclosed in a set. The boundary is boundless after all, and this decision meets less resistance (expert population is comparably small vis-a-vis the multitude of untutored masses); if at all resistance is confined to non-antagonistic plane of self-determination where only a change of orientation is required without risking bloodshed. In its last determining instance, this is how set theory supposes of the non-set thinking multitude, those, needless to say, who cannot think of the Real through non-antagonistic rational sets, also, and most importantly, those whose emancipation does not lie in freeing themselves from sets, but rather from their own un-thinking set as a class of non-experts.

Laruelle contra Badiou would save the appearance of set-thinking humanism, an axiomatic humanism, if only to save the integrity of axiomatic thinking overall, by asserting that the goal of set-thinking is to extract from its own mathematicality its definitive use for Man. The opposition to Badiou is subtle for indeed Badiou offers a radical form of humanism (in the form of antihumanism known to followers of Badiou). Yet the radical difference between the two lies in their concept of the subject. For Badiou the subject is beholden to an axiomatic decision if it desires liberation in the form of seizing the Event for whatever it is worth. (Recall here that the Event is an aleatory disruption of the present state of things whose force erupts from a non-determinable movement of Ereignis, which Badiou solves by axiomatic decisionality compared to the Heideggerian sigesis, to the surrender of Being to time that alone has the potential to change the present state of things). This refers to the ‘conditions’ of decision for Badiou (there are four: scientific, erotic, artistic, and political). These conditions immanently precede the subject, so to speak. For Laruelle the subject is itself the force of thought that in the last instance of understanding the Real finally makes available to its own form of radical witnessing how the Real is truly occasioned by itself.  Thus the Real is Man himself, but Man understood in its post-phenomenological sense as the subject that has already freed itself from the correlationism of phenomenology in which the subject is beholden to the anxiety-inducing conditionality of its finitude. This fixation to finitude is responsible for electing a deceptive form of infinity that it posits as unknowable (God, noumenon, absolute).

Suffice it to say that this is the sickness that has afflicted Heidegger’s obsession with finitude which is responsible for his formulation of Ereignis that ultimately delivers the destiny of Dasein to the immortalization of the correlationism of the subject in relation to the world. The influence of Kant is reworked in such a way that in place of the premise of the existence of God from which is deducible the immortality of the soul and the facticity of human freedom Heidegger proposed a more structural category, namely, the self-same instancing of Ereignis, sadistically testing Dasein in terms of throwing dice, translatable into Events. But unlike the Laruellean and Badiouian subject the Heideggerian subject (Dasein) is discouraged to seize the event. For Heidegger the decision to seize the Event is sure to meet an old challenge: how to break the circularity of self-inflicting violence that has characterized the history of correlationism that has instituted the ontological difference (the correlationism of thought and being, of subject and the world). Here, Heidegger immortalizes the correlation in terms of a caveat—thou shall not intervene in Ereignis.  But the pure absence of subjectivity in Ereignis already guarantees the immortality of the correlation (no subject to perform intervention) that is by all accounts nonetheless supervised by a subject who decides that the correlation as it has decided to be must continue for eternity. Zizek’s joke about the last ‘last’ cannibal who declares that cannibalism is defeated because he ate the last cannibal is an apt description of this suspension of human activity in the Heideggerian version of correlationism. Heidegger was not ignorant of the history of violence (that has defined the essence of Being) and yet he chose to deliver its resolution to time, which for him, is also a being of sort (his essay on On Time and Being is a case in point) yet a being that has already synthesized itself internally with the unpredictability of time (as time is simply an inner intuition, hence, an internal variable for the subject indeed). This is the near equivalent of the axiomatic alternative: the silent decision to synthesize being and time in being is a step closer to the abstraction of being, its reducibility to its highest paradoxical state, as a thinkable non-being, both as a set and an empty set, a power-set.

Whereas Kant was reluctant to say that it is the subject that is truly unknowable, Heidegger raised the stakes of self-understanding into an unattainable summit. In its last determining instance the unknowable is thereby exposed as Man himself.  Still, Heidegger had a powerful intuition of the final determining instance of the subject as the creator of the world, as the constituting agent of the Real itself in his decision to hyphenate Dasein into Da-sein—the hyphen is made to correspond to a function of radical separation from the world.  But the separation is left to its weak radical point and is made to stay in its correlation to the world—the hyphen functions as a reminder that the world in its structural bareness as the thereness (da-) of being (the empirical human being) refuses to be constituted by sein (the subject). The paradoxical stability of disjunctive relation between da– and sein constitutes the immortal correlation of thinking and being, of subject and the world. Their immortality is guaranteed by time. But if time is radically posited, as is posited by Heidegger, as being of the higher synthesis, the guarantee that time gives to the correlation is in the final analysis the guarantee that a sein makes to itself and its relationality. No wonder Heidegger believes that only a god can save us. This god-ding is the function of time that is assumed by being, by a being that like time, indifferent, and sometimes sadistic, is reluctant to participate in the affairs of men. Simply put, Heidegger failed to theorize a radical subject that in Laruelle becomes possible by means of an axiomatic decision that is purely the work of a founding subject (unlike Badiou’s conservative surrender of human act to ‘conditions’).

Still, my thesis attempts to show that Heidegger’s destructive retrieval of Being, despite its plasticity that has made it susceptible to an exacerbated dismissal of his fundamental ontology as itself an uncanny discharging of philosophy while defending its universal merits, an arduous defense of philosophy ironically occasioned by the increasing irrelevance of its method vis-a-vis the quest to understand the Real (Being for Heidegger), creates an important opening for speculative realism, as well as for a Laruellean non-philosophy.  Heidegger says of philosophy (symptomatic of a certain form of non-philosophy):

“The misinterpretations by which philosophy remains constantly besieged are mainly promoted by what people like us do, that is, by professors of philosophy. Their customary, and also legitimate and even useful business is to transmit a certain educationally appropriated acquaintance with philosophy as it has presented itself so far. This then looks as though it itself were philosophy, whereas at most, it is scholarship about philosophy” (Introduction to Metaphysics, 12).

In the thesis I wrote an annotation of the quotation from Heidegger immediately following the passages:

“By its inability to interrogate its own presuppositions, philosophy in its unmindful state helps set to work the historical oblivion of Being. This is where the ecstatic alternative of Heidegger offers itself: To think beyond philosophy” (“Revisiting Being,” in Philosophy and the Continuing Quest for Being, 172).

For his part Laruelle has the following explosive passages to offer:

“Humans are without philosophy–not just men without qualities but men who are primarily without essence, yet all the more destined-for-the-world and philosophy without having decided or willed it. Philosophy has always wanted us and we have been obliged to consent to it–but have we ever wanted philosophy?” (See Ray Brassier, “What Can Non-philosophy Do?” in Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 8, (2003), 2: 188).

Known to scholars of Heidegger the ecstatic alternative to philosophy is poetry as a form of dwelling, building and thinking.  The poetic alternative of Heidegger is opposed to the axiomatic, post-phenomenological alternative proposed by Laruelle (and also Badiou). We can take it from here that the poetic alternative is an example of how Heidegger left the radical intuitive potential of his project to wallow at its weak radical point. With helpful encouragement from post-phenomenological dismissal of poetry as an alternative to philosophy we can radicalize the intuitive strength of ekstasis to its last determining instance as Laruelle proposed in terms of radicalizing philosophy’s inability to interrogate itself by means of occupying a position (non-philosophy) radically alongside philosophy. This means that non-philosophy thinks alongside philosophy, not within it, hence, thinking beyond philosophy. The notion of the beyond should not mislead us here: the beyond has no permanent vertical vector. The beyond can also be horizontally opposite or diagonal. In contrast Heidegger thinks non-philosophically from within philosophy as proven by his reluctance to relinquish the correlational circle from thinking to being and back to thinking where the circle is operational from the outside, that is, the thinking correlation sufficient to itself which Ereignis is designed to perform.  In other words, the thinking of non-philosophy from within philosophy produces the opposite of what it claims to achieve, that is, to think beyond philosophy. Instead it has produced a new correlation that should be held independent of the correlation that exists between thinking and being. Another way of stating this is this: the Heideggerian alternative of philosophizing by other means succumbs to the temptation of embracing a false, reified form of transcendence. This failure of Heideggerian form of non-philosophy returns to itself with a vengeful rejoinder–who needs this kind of philosophy?

Against this kind of helpless philosophy (because ultimately consigned to the anxiety-inducing condition of finitude that is by necessity compelled to embrace a false transcendence) Laruelle raised the question of the necessity of philosophy for Man. If Heidegger’s philosophy is supposed to liberate Man from the oblivion of Being then how can Man find a use for this philosophy when this philosophy ties Him to a practice of circularity that constitutes His forgetfulness of Being in terms of being forced to embrace a higher circularity in the form of repeatable transcendence?

Laruelle seeks the way out of the correlation in terms of the following alternative:

“The problem is not to intervene in the world of philosophy… or how to transform it from within. The problem is how to use philosophy so as to effect a real transformation of the subject in such a way as to allow it to break the spell of its bewitchment by the world and enable it to constitute itself through a struggle with the latter” (Francois Laruelle, “What Can Non-Philosophy Do?”, in Angelaki, Vol, 8, No. 2, 2003, p. 179).

An equivalent suspension of the use of philosophy is the suspension of the time of the present (the destining-for-the-world in the sense of philosophical sufficiency) which is already at work in Heidegger (but the elimination of poetry is preferred). For Laruelle the radical suspension of the use of philosophy aims in the last instance to uncover the real form of immanence that is concealed in the oblivion of Being, that Being is itself an oblivious name for the Real, and lastly, to expose the privileged name of the Real itself, the Man-in-Man from whose radical practice of immanence in terms of exhibiting the radical immanence of the Real, its singularity, of occasioning the manifestation of the Real in terms of provoking it (by ex-isting, by standing-apart from it) to unilaterize or affect Man without return (that is, the Real affects Man irreversibly with no possibility of redemption to offer on the part of the Real; it is all up to Man, that is to say, in the final analysis, the Real is Man-in-Man) is finally exposed the real first name of the Real, namely, the One. It is in this context where Laruelle also describes the practice of the radical immanence of Man as a vision-in-One, as thinking (vision) in terms of ex-istence transposed to its radical expression as existing in the One. This form of suspension of philosophy therefore allows Being “to return to its presuppositionless bare essence,” what else but, and we have just come to realize after thinking alongside non-philosophy through Laruelle, belated as it is, the radical essence of freedom (Philosophy and the Continuing Quest for Being, 173).


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