Alain Badiou bows down to mathematics


S’il existe une authentique Internationale, aujourd’hui, c’est bien celle des mathématiciens.

Alain Badiou, Éloge des mathématiques

When Alain Badiou, who is proud to call himself a Communist, claims that mathematicians represent the only authentic International (with a capital “I”), you know that, whatever the problem, he sees mathematics as part of the solution.   Badiou has written in Éloge des mathématiques that “the fundamental relation between philosophy and mathematics is a relation of reverence, if I may say so.  Something in philosophy bows down to mathematics.”

What, according to Badiou, is the purpose of philosophy?

I believe that philosophy has no other goal than this:  to allow anyone to apprehend, in the field of [his or her] vital experience, what is a happy orientation.  One could also say this:  to place at everyone’s disposal the certainty that the true life [vraie vie], that of a Subject freely oriented according to a true idea, is possible.

Mathematics contributes to this goal because the mathematical Subject’s orientation is free but disciplined:

…by virtue of their aesthetic force and of the invention they require, mathematics forces one to become a Subject whose freedom, far from being in opposition to discipline, demands it.  Indeed, when you work on a mathematical problem, the invention of the solution — and thus the creative freedom of the spirit — is not some sort of blind wandering, but is rather determined like a path always bordered in a way by the obligations of global coherence and of the rules of proof.  You accomplish your desire to find the solution not against rational law, but together with its help and its prohibitions at the same time.  Now that is what I began to think, in the first place with Lacan:  desire and law are not in opposition, they are dialectically identical.

Badiou’s secret mathematical love formula:  Desire = Law.  (Maybe someone can suggest a symbol for identity that is more dialectical than =?)  In a different formulation:

 Is there a happiness greater than [the pleasures that one finds in commerce]?  There’s the great question of philosophy.  Our societies, domesticated by Capital and fetishism of goods, answer:  no.  But philosophy, tenaciously and since the beginning, has labored to make us think that it exists.

For Badiou, although mathematics is not for everyone, it does offer a “model, limited but convincing, of the possible dialectical relation between the finiteness of the individual who works and strays, and the infinity of the Subject who has understood a universal truth.”

I have underlined many more sentences in my copy of  Éloge des mathématiques and could go on quoting them, explaining both my agreements and disagreements.  But the few passages translated above should give a sense of his aims.  Readers who are only familiar with philosophy of mathematics in the analytic tradition will probably find this all baffling, but you should bear in mind that Badiou sees philosophy not as a series of footnotes to science but rather, in the spirit of the ancient Greeks, as an accompaniment in the search for happiness and the vraie vie.   Mathematics plays a central role because, as Badiou sees it, philosophy only became possible with the development of systematic mathematical reasoning.

Here is the list of Badiou’s New York appearances last December (and a few from previous years).  Can you find the word “mathematics?”

Alain Badiou, “The Fundamental Contradictions of the Contemporary World”

Monday, December 15, 2014 – 6:00pm

Location: East Gallery, Buell Hall (Maison Francaise)

Event Category: Talks

Eminent French philosopher Alain Badiou will deliver a public lecture on the topic of the fundamental contradictions of the contemporary world.
Alain Badiou is a philosopher, playwright, novelist and political activist. Heis professor emeritus at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and continues to teach seminars at the Collège International de Philosophie and the European Graduate School. Trained as a mathematician, Alain Badiou is one of the most original French philosophers today. His philosophy seeks to expose and make sense of the potential of radical innovation (revolution, invention, transfiguration) in every situation. In addition to several novels, plays and political essays, he has published a number of major philosophical works, including Theory of the Subject, Being and Event, Being and Event II: Logics of Worlds and Being and Event III: The Immanence of Truths (forthcoming).

Below is his December program in NYC:

December 13th, at 6pm

He will be at the Miguel Abreu Gallery for the book launch of the English translation of Gilles Châtelet’s To Live and Think Like Pigs, for which he wrote the foreword.

Miguel Abreu Gallery, 36 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002.

(Gilles Châtelet obtained a Ph.D. in mathematics before he went on to a career in philosophy; more about him in future posts.)


December 13th, at 7 pm:

He will participate in a lecture-performance entitled “A Dialogue Between A Chinese Philosopher And A French Philosopher” at The Educational Alliance.

The Educational Alliance, Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002


December 15th, at 6 pm: 

Badiou will give a presentation entitled “The fundamental contradictions of the contemporary world”, at the Maison Française of Columbia University.

Maison Française of Columbia University, 515 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10027

December 16th, at 6 pm:

On the occasion of the US publication of his book, The Age of the Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose, he will give a talk about “Literature and Onthology” at the Maison Française of NYU.

Maison Française of NYU, 16 Washington Mews, New York, NY 10003


December 17th, at 7 pm:

He will be at the Jack Tilton Gallery to lead a discussion entitled “Some considerations about contemporary art”.


Literature and Philosophy: Roman/Romanesque

Alain Badiou in dialogue
with Emily Apter

Thursday, December 10, 2015, 7:00 p.m.

A New French Philosophy Event, co-sponsored by the departments of French and Comparative Literature

ALAIN BADIOU is a philosopher, playwright, and author. His books include Logics of Worlds; Being and Event; Theory of the Subject; The Century and a host of treatises and manifestos on aesthetics, Arab Spring, love, and, most recently, mathematics.

EMILY APTER teaches in the departments of French and Comparative Literature at NYU. She co-edited a collection of Badiou’s essays on literature with Bruno Bosteels (Verso, 2014), and is currently completing a book on “unexceptional politics.”


9 thoughts on “Alain Badiou bows down to mathematics


    Seuls quelques normaliens attardés en recherche d’un Père et quelques philosophes new-yorkais branchés peuvent encore croire à ce que dit Badiou,que ce soit suur Mao TseToung Staline et le reste ,ou que ce soit sur les mathématiques.
    Je citerai seulement sa démonstration qu ‘il fait des mathématiques : “” Mon père était mathématicien ,donc je suis mathématicien ” .
    U peu court ,jeune (!) homme
    .Question : quel rapport entre la philosophie et la Vérité?


    1. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

      Est-ce que tu as seulement lu les extraits que j’ai reproduits? D’ailleurs, si tu avais lu ce que j’ai écrit là-dessus, tu te serais douté que ce n’est pas dans les départements de littérature comparée qu’on trouve des philosophes.


      1. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

        Étant donné que tu n’apprécies pas Badiou, ton éducation ne sera pas complète tant que tu n’aurais pas compris pourquoi ses écrits sont suivis avec tant d’attention par des littéraires américains. Sais-tu pourquoi? Moi non. En attendant, je te conseille vivement la lecture du petit article de Kadvany.


    2. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

      Anyway, I think you are being inconsistent. It’s as if someone were to say that only a practicing name-worshipper could be interested in your book with Graham. Badiou-worshipping exists and has effects in the world; that alone justifies treating it as a fit subject for inquiry. I happen to believe that Badiou-worshipping has a stronger claim to rationality than name-worshipping. And I suspect you would agree with some of the quotations from his recent book if you didn’t know they were written by Badiou.


  2. Mathieu Mario

    “S’il existe une authentique Internationale, aujourd’hui, c’est bien celle des mathématiciens.” Badiou, like many in France associates analytic philosophy, which you mention, with a la language, more precisely with the inaccurate concept of “Anglo-saxon” meant to cover Britain and the USA – this being of course a false identification -, and he has been active, especially in ENS, in support of the study of “French” philosophy (essentially the post-war generation of his masters, friends, and himself), alongside the venerable “German” and the much hated “Anglo-saxon” varieties. I cannot think of a more prejudiced philosopher, one that has so deeply ingrained views of philosophy as compartimentalized on a national basis. That he makes such a pompous claim for mathematics is fine and dandy, but his view of philosophy on national lines is chauvinistic and ridiculous, as well as it opens the door to easy criticisms, especially in a nation known for widespread “anti-américanisme” (visibly, this is not reciprocated, and that is for the better). That one likes it or not, analytic philosophy, if anything, is closest to this ideal “internationale” ; certainly closer than Badiou in this respect, that nobody gives a toss about one’s country of origin or mother tongue, and everyone is engaged in a common endeavour, based on a language that everyone tries to make as clear and shareable as possible. I don’t understand why this (clarity, etc.) is wrong with philosophers, but right for mathematicians.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s