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UFPPC (www.ufppc.

org) Digging Deeper CLII March 7,

2011, 7:00 p.m.
Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London and New
York: Verso, 2002). Translated by Peter Hallward. This translation first
published 2001; original French edition published 1993.
[Thesis. The ethics advanced by the (13-15). It does not take into account "singular
contemporary era is nihilistic; in order to save situations" (15-16). IV. Some principles. Three
ethics, it must be defined as an "ethic of theses: 1. Man defines himself positively. 2. Evil
particular truths." This is the ethics that protects is founded on the refusal of positive action. 3.
against terror, betrayal, and disaster (but "radical There are only situations. "There is no ethics in
Evil" does not, according to Badiou, exist).] general" (16).
Translator's Introduction [2001]. Badiou Ch. 2: Does the Other Exist? It is Lévinas who
distinguishes a realm of knowledge, which is gave priority to the other (18). I. Ethics
always "structured in dominance," and a realm of according to Lévinas. Summary of Lévinas
truth, which through a subjective procedure (18-20). II. The 'ethics of difference.'
evades this domination by an "event" that breaks Multiculturalism derives from this philosophy
with the ordinary situation in the domains of art, (20). III. From the Other to the Altogether-
love, science, or politics; ethics has to do with Other. But Lévinas's reasoning on the Same and
fidelity to this event (vii-xvi). The relation of his the Other is illogical (21-23). IV. Ethics as
approach to Lacan and Kant (xvi-xxi). Badiou's decomposed [décomposée] religion. It is a
ethics is "so fundamentally at odds with the view "pious discourse without piety," as we see by the
that generally prevails in the Anglo-American fact that "the self-declared apostles of ethics . . .
academy as to be almost unreadable" (xxi-xxii). are clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained
Badiou abandons contemporary ethics' focus on difference (23; 24, emphasis in original; 23-24).
otherness (xxi-xxx). Some questions for Badiou V. Return to the Same. We must abandon this
(xxx-xxxv). entire approach in order to return to the question
of the Same. VI. 'Cultural' differences and
Notes on the Translation. Badiou's language culturalism. A sort of tourist colonialism
is unproblematic (xlix-li). underlies the present passion for other cultures,
Preface to the English Edition. This book was but these differences are of "no interest for
provoked by the "'ethical' delirium" of the 1990s, thought" (26; 26-27). VII. From the Same to
after the end of the Cold War (liii-lv). truths. Truths by definition are the same for all:
Ideologically, the ex-Maoist Badiou regrets this should be the basis of ethics. But "ethics
nothing; he favors dissolving NATO and the does not exist. There is only the "ethic-of (of
International Criminal Court (lv). From the politics, of love, of science, of art) . . . it is
theoretical point of view, this is an unfinished impossible to speak of one Ethics" (28, emphasis
work (lv-lviii). in original; 27-28).

Introduction. By taking issue with Ch. 3: Ethics as a Figure of Nihilism. The

contemporary discourse on ethics, this book contemporary world cannot "strive for a Good"
proposes a completely different understanding of (30). I. Ethics as the servant of necessity.
ethics (1-3). Badiou denounces contemporary politics as at the
service of Capital (30-34). II. Ethics as the
Ch. 1: Does Man Exist? The ideology of the 'Western' mastery of death. Ethics is nihilistic
rights of man is based on natural rights; it is in its negativity (34-35). III. Bio-ethics.
reactionary and out-of-date (4-5). I. The death Euthanasia as an exemplary case (35-38). But
of Man? The philosophy of the 1960s was the "every definition of Man based on happiness is
opposite of indifferent to humanity (5-7). II. The nihilist" (37). IV. Ethical nihilism between
foundations of the ethic of human rights. conservatism and the death drive. Since
These foundations, which are based on Kant and "our societies are without a future that can be
pretend to be self-evident, are in fact presented as universal," ethics alternates
unsustainable (8-10). III. Man: Living animal between conservatism and "a murderous desire"
or immortal singularity? This ethics is founded (38). We must instead affirm the "possibility of
on the idea of man "as a victim" (10). In reality, the impossible," as in "every loving encounter,
the worst ordeals demonstrate man's capacity to every scientific re-foundation, every artistic
affirm himself as something "other than a mortal invention and every sequence of emancipatory
being" (12; 10-12). The ideology of man as politics" (39).
victim is a mask of power (12-13). This ideology
also makes of collective action a source of evil
Ch. 4: The Ethic of Truths. Badiou tries to find experience (124-27). Mathematics (127-30). "I
a way to "preserve this word ethics" (40). I. am a materialist" (130; 130-31). "I accept
Being, event, truth, subject. There is no absolutely that man is an animal and, in a certain
ethics in general because there is no "abstract sense, nothing else" (133; 133-35). Badiou is
Subject" (40). "There is only a particular kind of revising his concept of relationship (135-38). The
animal" in particular circumstances "of a truth" status of truth (138-42).
(41; 40-41). The particular subject is created by
a fidelity to an event that he chooses (41-42). "I Bibliography. 18 pp.
shall call 'truth' (a truth) the real process of a Index. 4 pp.
fidelity to an event" (42). This subject is not the
psychological subject (43-44). II. Formal About the Author. Alain Badiou teaches
definition of the ethic of a truth. The "ethic philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and
of a truth" is "that which lends consistency to the the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris.]
presence of some-one in the composition of the [Additional information. Alain Badiou was
subject induced by the process of this truth" (44). born in Rabat, Morocco, on Jan. 17, 1937. Son of
Commentary, with reference to Lacan (44-48). a math teacher active in the Resistance who was
III. The experience of ethical 'consistency.' mayor of Toulouse from 1944 to 1958, Alain
Two examples: 1) "ethical consistency manifests Badiou was first in his class at the École Normale
itself as disinterested interest" (49; 48-50); 2) Supérieure in 1960 and taught philosophy in
every truth is opposed to opinions, which are Rheims, first in a lycée and then in the university.
"representations without truth, the anarchic A left Socialist, he embraced Maoism in 1969. He
debris of circulating knowledge" (50; 50-52). IV. contributed to the development of Paris-VIII
Asceticism? Ethics is "literally asocial," but (Vincennes, later Saint-Denis) for thirty years. In
perhaps not necessarily ascetic (54; 53-56). 1999 he became a professor at the École
Ch. 5: The Problem of Evil. Must we refuse the Normale Supérieure; he is currently emeritus at
validity of the notion of Evil? (58). A. Life, that prestigious institution. He has also taught at
truths, and the Good. We cannot define evil the Collège international de philosophie, founded
through a general analysis of "what is harmful to in 1983 by Jacques Derrida and others. He now
Man" (58). Evil has to be thought "from the teaches at the European Graduate School in
starting point of the Good" (60; 59-61). B. On Switzerland. — His work is marked by the
the existence of Evil. Badiou rejects influence of Louis Althusser (1918-1990). Badiou
identifying the Holocaust with a "radical Evil," maintains an ontology based on mathematics (set
which according to him does not exist (61-66). theory), identifies phenomenology with logic, and
But "Evil exists" (66). The ethic of truths is what arrives at the conclusion that nothing belongs to
"tries to ward off the Evil that every singular truth the self. As he maintains that the concept of the
makes possible" (67). C. Return to the event, event depends on such self-belonging, the event
fidelity and truth. Evil has three names: terror does not exist. — In politics, he is unapologetic
(to imagine that an event represents a complete about his engagement with Communism; while
situation); betrayal (to fail to be faithful); disaster denouncing its excesses, he also denounces
(to identify a truth with total power (71; 67-71). liberal democracy as a tool of capitalist
D. Outline of a theory of Evil. 1. propaganda; on this point and many others, he is
Simulacrum and terror. Nazism interpreted ferociously criticized, with some going so far as to
philosophically (72-77). 2. Betrayal. The defeat accuse him of anti-Semitism. Others maintain
of the ethic of a truth is different from simple that his philosophy is so abstract and elitist that it
renunciation (78-80). 3. The unnameable. is nothing but a chic form of radicalism incapable
"Every absolutization of the power of a truth of really affecting power or social life. — Yet he
organizes an Evil" (85; 80-87). insists that philosophy should address itself to the
problems of its time and denies the existence of
Conclusion. Summary of the argument (90-91). eternal problems. Badiou rejects postmodernism
Appendix: Politics and Philosophy: An and his politics, finally, is a sort of faithfulness to
Interview with Alain Badiou [1998]. Since the historic cause of a revolutionary quest for
the end of the 1970s, Badiou has been practicing egalitarian justice: in this sense he is an heir of
"politics without a party" (95-98). "For us this Jean-Paul Sartre. "Badiou's philosophy has been
means, concretely: don't stand for election, don't characterized as a mixture of Plato's belief in
vote, don't expect anything from any political absolute truth and Sartre's emphasis on personal
party" (99). L'Organisation Politique, publishing decision and action," said Jennifer Wallace in
La Distance politique, is very small (100-01). 2006 in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
Marx's analysis of capital stands (105). Cuba His recent books (Le siècle [2005]; De quoi
(106-07). Politics and culture; négritude, "Jew," Sarkozy est-il le nom ? [2007]) have sold well. He
"Christian" (107-19). Platonism (119-20). Lacan is perhaps the living French philosopher the best
(121-22). Religion (122-24). Philosophy as
known abroad. — Badiou has also written two [Critique. A work stimulating more for the
novels and four plays.] critique it makes of the "nihilism" of
contemporary ethics than for its solutions, for
these remain sketchy and undeveloped.]